"Lincoln" (2012)

Lincoln_2012_Teaser_PosterLincoln (2012)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Running time: 150 minutes

I’m going to come clean right now: until I saw Lincoln, I had never seen a Daniel Day-Lewis film before. He was a man I was only aware of by reputation, as someone who goes to great lengths to prepare for his roles and that the results are often amazing. And while it certainly doesn’t make my opinion stand out among the other critics, but based upon this film the reputation is deserved.

Now Showing this week is Best Picture nominated Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. Lincoln revolves around the debate and vote to pass the thirteenth amendment to the US Constitution in January of 1865. President Abraham Lincoln wished to emancipate the African American slaves, and to do so he needed to gain majority support from Congress to add a thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery. But with a Union (Northern Anti-Slave states) victory over the Confederate (Southern Slave owning states) all but assured in the coming months, Lincoln must pass this amendment before the war ends because if it does then there is less of a precedent to give equal rights to the slaves.

I must say, for a film that (in a nutshell) is about old men arguing politics, Lincoln made some fascinating viewing. I have a limited knowledge of Civil War history, so a lot of the information presented in the film was new to me, and in that regard I found it to be very educational. I know that some events were altered to heighten the drama (such as specifically who voted for what when the time came), but the big stuff like the views of the big parties etc. was a huge eye opener. For one, the party who was fighting to emancipate the slaves was the Republican party. No that’s not a typo, it was the Republican party fighting for the legal equality of African American people. I know, I couldn’t believe it either!

Performance wise, the film was top notch. We all know that Daniel Day-Lewis would be amazing, and his Honest Abe was captivating, especially in his scenes with Mrs. Lincoln (Sally Field). Their scenes together were excellent, with the two of them showing two very different approaches to grief after losing one of their sons prior to the film’s beginning. And I must say, Day-Lewis can perform the hell out of a monologue, always feeling genuine and never overly rhythmic. In fact that would be the word I would use to describe Day-Lewis’ Lincoln: genuine. His Lincoln felt more like a person than your usual historical figure in a film. What can I say, Daniel Day-Lewis may be a crazy person when it comes to prep, but it works for him.

The other cast members were certainly brilliant, some favourites of mine being Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader. Jones’ portrayal of Republican senator Thaddeus Stevens was a joy to watch. He was witty, passionate and tragic in that his desire for racial equality was being twisted into a political circus. I would not be sad to see him win Best Supporting Actor later today! James Spader, on the other hand, had the role of the disgustingly devious W.N. Bilbo, a man hired by Lincoln to help convince others to support the vote. His complete lack of tact and personal hygiene made for a very interesting character, not one you’d likely see in the same room as a President today!

Much like what I said in my post about Flight, my favourite aspect of Lincoln was what the film was saying to the audience; or at least what I was interpreting from it. When I studied acting at university, one thing we were taught when approaching a script was to understand the three “worlds” of the script; those “worlds” being the world of the script itself (the one the narrative takes place in), the world of writer (the time in which it was written) and lastly the world today. Now the last world is asking you to think about why this story is being told now; why is it still relevant? And I felt Lincoln presented an answer to that question very strongly, for to me the film speaks very much about the current political situation regarding marriage equality and gun control in the US. I know everyone is connecting everything they can get their hands on to these issues, but seriously, hear me out! Lincoln presents to us a moment in history when the Republican party stood up for the equality of a cultural minority, going against a social norm that had been held for centuries, and were willing to accept that perhaps the Constitution isn’t perfect and that it needs amending to move with the times. Lincoln is reminding us of this because this is a moment that needs to happen again, and to me it was a powerful message that I was thinking about long after the credits rolled.

Now I know this film isn’t really anyone’s first choice to take home the Oscars today given it seems to be the obvious choice given the Oscars’ track record. And to be honest, Lincoln isn’t my ideal choice to win either (come on Argo!!!!!!), but I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if it did.

Happy Oscars Day everyone!

See you next time.

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"Flight" (2012)

Flight (2012)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Running time: 138 minutes

Now Showing this week is Flight, the latest film by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington in his Oscar nominated role of airline pilot Whip Whitaker. Flight‘s story revolves around Captain Whitaker after a civilian airline plane he is piloting suddenly begins to fall apart, causing the plane to go into a free-fall nose dive. Through some unconventional maneuvers, Whitaker is able to crash land the plane with minimal casualties and he is heralded as a hero by the survivors and the media. But once it comes to light that not only does Whitaker have a serious alcohol and drugs problem, but he was also intoxicated during the accident; his reputation, career and life starts to dissolve around him….

My first impression upon finishing this film was just pure bewilderment as to why Flight isn’t in the running for Best Picture. Flight is nothing short of compelling, from the intense opening act and right through the legal and personal struggles that follow for its main protagonist. It is a story of heroism, moral ethics and the human weakness of succumbing to our vices; which to me is everything that one looks for in a Best Picture. Flight is a film that I would not be upset to see win such an award, but sadly it somehow did not make the cut. Now I haven’t seen all of the Best Picture nominations (six out of nine is pretty good though!), but I guess Amour must be pretty damn good for it to be considered in both Best Picture and Foreign Film!

One of my favourite aspects of this film was its structuring. Much like a classic mystery story, the film opens with the incident that will affect the events to come: the plane crash. That plane crash sequence was one of the most intense moments of my cinema going life, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time! And what’s more, similar to a mystery story, the film simply presents what happened, without hiding anything. It shows us the entire event, and leaves us with the rest of the film to figure out what can and can’t be used against Whitaker in a court of law. It made several reveals all the more shocking given we had already seen all the evidence at the beginning!

But the true highlight of the film is indeed Denzel Washington’s performance as Whitaker, hence the Oscar nomination. Washington nails the role, finding a balance between being incredibly charming and downright despicable in his alcoholism that leads Whitaker into becoming a very multifaceted character. What’s more, Washington does some of the best drunk acting I have ever seen, and as an actor myself I know how hard that can be. There is a fine line in drunk acting where the tone will change from serious to slapstick and it is a very easy line to cross; but Washington never crosses it once. The way he shows that his brain is still ticking over, but has absolutely no coherence in his speech or body was nothing short of phenomenal. The Oscar nomination is highly deserved, and win would be as well. I must also give credit where credit is due to the rest of the cast. Washington may be the stand out in the film, but the supporting cast were also exemplary. Don Cheadle was fantastic as Whitaker’s attorney, as was John Goodman as his drug dealer; just to name a few.

However, the final thing that I loved about this film was the ethical dilemma it presented to us, the audience. That dilemma being that yes, Whitaker has a serious drinking problem but out of every pilot they tested in the same scenario, he was the only one who managed to land the plane without killing every single person on board. Can you really just throw him to the dogs since you need someone to blame? It certainly was a head-scratcher for me!

See you next time!

"Zero Dark Thirty" (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Running time: 157 minutes
Kathryn Bigelow’s last film, The Hurt Locker (2008), is one of my favourite films. The ways in which Bigelow can capture the realism of a live military situation made for some action film making so compelling that it has rarely been matched. The use of tension over theatrics was the key, focusing on the reality that a lot of combat can be slow and quiet rather than huge and crazy ala. any of the Die Hard films. Don’t get me wrong, I love Die Hard as much as the next man (if not more so!) but a film like Die Hard will have me bopping in my seat with the thrill of the ride, whilst a film like The Hurt Locker will keep me sitting dead still in a constant state of fear and pumped full of adrenaline. Suffice to say, Zero Dark Thirty has been a much anticipated film for me. Can Bigelow do all that again? Is she a director I can say I love in the military genre for some consistent aesthetics, or was The Hurt Locker a rare fluke?
For the most part, she pulled it off!
Now Showing this week is Zero Dark Thirty, directed by the aforementioned Kathryn Bigelow. Zero Dark Thirty chronicles the events leading up to the death of arguably the most wanted man in history: Osama bin Laden. Beginning with a chilling, audio only, rendition of the September 11 attacks; the film follows the journey of CIA Agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she dedicates herself to finding bin Laden. Along the way there is torture, bureaucracy and a weighty feeling of hopelessness, all of which are eating away at Agent Maya, slowly changing her from an innocent young agent into a formidable investigator. 
Zero Dark Thirty is one intense film. The film opening with the September 11 attacks as I mentioned earlier, along with a disclaimer that the film is based upon first hand accounts of actual events, firmly plants the idea in the audience’s heads that this isn’t a complete work of fiction. Yes, I am certain that the film isn’t a completely word-for-word representation of the events that occurred, but the disclaimer said to me that all the events in the film actually happened in some form. The people giving the “first hand accounts” would have said, for example, that they had a board meeting to discuss the bin Laden situation; this person was not happy about it, this person defended it, and then the writers would have written their own dialogue to show that. So one can take the main narrative points as fact, in my opinion, but as for the specifics of characters or dialogue, one must take that with a grain of salt.
Once again, Bigelow excels with her realistic portrayals of events. (Spoiler alert if you don’t keep up with the news) The climactic raid on bin Laden’s compound that leads to his death was some of the most amazing action scenes I have seen in a film (End spoiler alert for people who live under various rocks). The lack of music, the gritty night-vision perspectives, and the fact that finally (FINALLY!) silenced weapons are shown to not actually be silent, makes the raid so tense and realistic that Bigelow had me frozen in my chair with anticipation and fear, even though I knew the ultimate outcome! The entire film is one massive build up to this one event, and it is a finale to be reckoned with! The Best Picture nomination this film has received is deserved based upon this scene alone.
The other aspect of the film that is very realistically portrayed is that of the torture scenes. They are incredibly visceral and brutal, often making me flinch throughout the film. Zero Dark Thirty has taken a lot of criticism for supposedly advocating torture of “detainees”, with the CIA and US senators complaining and saying that they never actually tortured anybody in the pursuit of bin Laden. While I can’t comment with any accuracy as to the legitimacy of their complaints (though they would have to complain regardless of if they tortured people or not, for the sake of public image), the one thing I will argue is that I don’t think Zero Dark Thirty advocates torture at all. Yes the characters torture people, and yes they get information that is vital to their investigations as a result of said torture; but I would not say that the film is saying that this is a good thing. It never felt good or just when a person was tortured in the film, not once. I feel Zero Dark Thirty merely presents the torture, leaving it to us as viewers to decide how we feel about it. We feel like the interrogators: seeing the detainee at face value and judging whether or not they are withholding information or legitimately innocent, and whether the ends do justify the means. That is some of the power of Zero Dark Thirty, our own self reflection from the events presented to us.
The only real complaint I would have about the film is that of the narrative structure. The film takes place across nearly ten years, and as such scenes often begin with a location and a date written on the screen. Some of these time jumps are many years apart, and it becomes a double-edged sword for the film. The positive side is that for character arc purposes, it allows us to see the characters develop over a long period of time in a two and a half hour film. Chastain’s Agent Maya has the most impressive arc in the film, going from standing in the corner will a interrogator tortures a person to being the person who deals out the pain, and the ways in which this slowly destroys who she is. However, the time jumps also never really felt like a lot of time had passed narrative wise, it all felt very disjointed when a time jump of three to four years occurs and nothing new has come to light in the investigation and could simply have been a scene change. But then again, I suppose that is the point of the film: that the investigations were seemingly going no where for so long before bin Laden was killed (Whoops, sorry rock-people!).
Zero Dark Thirty is definitely worthy of your attention. It is a military film without the ” ‘Merrrriicaaaaa!” kind of attitude; it is an objective look at the effects of modern warfare on the people involved, both in the field and in the offices. It is also a thrilling dramatisation of the manhunt that will go down in the history books, and that’s enough to make it worth watching. Sure it isn’t perfect, but it’s damn good.
See you next time!

"Django Unchained" (2012)

Django Unchained (2012)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Running time: 165 minutes

Now Showing’s Oscar Season continues with a film that has been nominated for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) and Best Original Screenplay. I went into this film with an air of caution as I have a mixed history with films directed by Quentin Tarantino. I either love and lavish them as strokes of genius (Death Proof, Pulp Fiction) or I feel unimpressed and merely see them as decent (Reservoir Dogs). But if he was concerned, Quentin can rest easy: Django Unchained was quite good.

Now Showing this week is (obviously) Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino. Django tells the story of an African American slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) in 1858 who, upon being rescued by and teaming up with a bounty hunter named Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz), has set out to rescue his wife, a fellow slave named Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Broomhilda has been purchased by an incredibly racist plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and who won’t give her up easily. What follows is a game of deception between the two parties and, in true Tarantino fashion, large amounts of blood.

The first thing I would say about Django is that it looks fantastic. Tarantino definitely has a style in the look of his films, a style that comes from his proclaimed love of Western and Kung-Fu movies. And Django being the first film Tarantino has made that actually is a Western (that is a film set in the Old West, during the late 1800’s), this style suits the film perfectly. This stylised aesthetic is coupled with a beautiful motif of white guilt with recurring shots of blood splattering onto gorgeous white canvases, be them flowers or horses, as though to symbolise that all the blood spilled in this era stains the white man’s hands. Artistically, Django Unchained is a marvel.

The performances in the film are also top notch. Foxx’s Django is determined yet naive, and his descent into badass-ery was a joy to watch. Waltz’s Dr. Shultz made for an excellent partner in crime for Django; bringing his own comedic touch to the contract killer with a heart of gold. My personal favourite was DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, a man so repulsive and devilish, yet fascinating to behold as a good villain should be. For DiCaprio’s first effort as a villain, it was high quality work. And Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson brings his trademark cynicism, bewilderment and cruelty to the role of Stephen, Candie’s right hand slave. Suffice to say, the cast of the film is a great ensemble, making for a compelling film with a cast of colourful characters.

Django Unchained does run for a little longer than I would have liked. That’s not to say that the film became bad or boring towards the end, quite the opposite; I just found that the movie climaxed twice. And once the first climax had occurred  I expected the credits to roll after a fade to black only for the film to fade back in to what seemed like another whole act of the story! It was not a bad conclusion, but the feeling was akin to that of watching the end of The Lord of the Rings: expecting it to end after a lengthy run time, only for it to trick you and continue for another twenty to thirty minutes. As well as that narrative stretch, I feel that while most every scene was necessary to the plot, most scenes could have been tightened to shorten the running time. There was a bit of fluff to every scene.

But you can all rest assured, Django Unchained is a great film, one of Tarantino’s best. At long last Tarantino has made a Western (or a “Southern” as he likes to call it, it being set in the American South after all), a genre he was born to work in. His aesthetics, and style of violence, lend excellently to the genre and should not be missed. However, while the writing was excellent for the most part, if I never hear the word “nigger” ever again, it will be too damn soon!

See you next time!