Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

“Lincoln” (2012) – Review

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Director:  Steven Spielberg

Writer:  Tony Kushner

Stars:  Daniel-Day Lewis, Sally Field, David Stratharin, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Lee Pace, and Gulliver McGrath

The story of Lincoln is a story of a man who rises to the occasion and do what he must.  It is the story of the last days of his presidency as he moves to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, and at the same time moves to end the war.  After an initial battle scene, the film moves to the political machinations of Washington D.C. and the horse trading required to get something done.

By focusing the script on only the last four months of Lincoln’s life the film is able to show us the man and not the myth.  It also shows us the damage slavery caused on the morality of the nation.  The passage of the 13th Amendment was not assured.  There were those in the Union that feared its passage would cause a domino effect of blacks being considered equals to whites, eventual voting rights issued to the black man, and then universal suffrage for woman.  We discovered the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves but only those in rebelling states, and its wording and authority was more akin to confiscated  war booty then freeing a people.

The look of the film is in washed out blues and grays, with the only warm light coming from dim candle light.  All the faces are ashen and haggard; the clothes and buildings weathered and dirty.  This is a time of an exhausting war.  The only signs of civility are to either put on a brave face or for some political gain.

In this world is the lone towering figure of Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis); not above the frae but a part of it.  And even though he is “the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power,” he is not above the Law.  He must come down from Mt. Olympus and get his hands dirty.  Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is strong but exhausted.  A man who is a teller of stories, but capable of making decisions that will result in the loss of many lives.  A man who stands alone, for his family stands second to his responsibilities to the Union, and his confidants are not privy to all his thoughts & actions.  In the end he is a man with a strong moral compass, and is willing to make the hard decisions to make something right.  If in the end the cost of freeing the slave is the loss of more life, then he is willing to make that sacrifice to do what is right.

Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln strikes the right balance of a character who knows that she is both a hinderance and an asset to her husband.  She is barely able to keep it together when called to be strong, but then is insightful at moments of weakness.  Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens is a fire-brand and great orator, and performs memorable verbal duels with an equally motivated–and unexpected–Lee Pace as Fernando Wood.  The remainder of the case is equally gifted, with James Spader as the bacchanalian lobbyist W.N. Bilbo stealing every scene he is in.

Lincoln makes us connect with its subject and time by demystifying the man and making us privy to the historically accurate and ultimately dirty business of politics, as well as genuinely care for the outcome of all the players involved.

Grade = A

“War Horse” – Movie Review

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Director:  Steven Spielberg

Writers:  Lee Hall and Richard Curtis

Stars:  Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Neils Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch

War Horse is the store of Joey (the Horse) and Albert (Jeremy Irvine) his young owner.  From the day Joey was born Albert admired him from a distance.  A few years later, Joey comes up for auction and Albert’s father (Peter Mullen) proceeds to win him after a bidding war with his landowner (David Thewlis).  Albert begins to tame and train Joey once he his brought to the farm.  This is made more difficult by the fact that Joey is a thoroughbred; more akin to a racetrack or the Calvary then plowing fields.  But Albert & Joey persevere, and Joey becomes a good work horse.  Unfortunately Albert’s father has been unlucky in life after his service in the Boer Wars.  He misses his rent payment to the landowner, and then his crops are destroyed after a heavy storm.  With no funds, he is forced to sell Joey to a Calvary Officer (Tom Hiddleston) once England has entered World War I.

From here, we follow Joey as he servers for the British, is captured by the Germans, hidden by two German brothers, discovered by a French girl, and then recaptured by the Germans and made to work on the front lines.  At the same time Albert has come of age and has enlisted in the service to find his beloved Joey.  He is sent to the front lines of trench warfare; the German & British facing off against each other across a “No-Mans Land”.  It is behind this “No-Mans Land” that Joey is brought to the breaking point moving men, material, and heavy artillery.  Only due to the advancement of the British and the compassion of a German soldier is Joey released to fend for himself.  He does so by galloping; galloping through the front lines and through artillery file; galloping over the trenches and then through “No-Mans Land”.  And here he is finally stopped; not by gun fire or artillery shells, but by the jagged steel of barbed-wire.  Wounded, exhausted, and entangled Joey is only saved by the mercy of both fighting fronts.  Enemies coming and working together to free him.  Back on the British side, Joey and Albert are reunited at the infirmary, both battered by the War.

The story reflects its children’s book roots.  The experiences of the horse being too unbelievable, and the nobility of some of the characters being too perfect.  Kudos though for the introduction of the German brothers and Albert’s father’s back story (not in the original book).  Both threads were a necessary bit of reality that reflect the darkness which man is capable of and the damage war leaves on the soul.

As for the direction, there was something off to Steven Spielberg’s work this time.  Though overall the film was well shot, there were a few moments where it had a PBS Masterpiece Theatre quality.  Also, the lighting and setting of the final scene was so sweet I felt I had to visit my dentist after the movie.  That being said, he shined with the war scenes and the small details of character development.

The musical score was typical John Williams.

All the performances are universally good.  Jeremy Irvine was spot-on as the boy who becomes a man.  Emily Watson &  Peter Mullan are believable as his poor stoic farmer parents.  The supporting cast is equally good.  Shinning in key moments that were affecting:  Tom Hiddleston realizing his impending death; Neils Arestrup revelation of the loss of his granddaughter.

Overall this is a good film.  The quality of it made more impressive by how quickly it was developed and crafted (Spielberg only signing-up to direct in May 2010).  It is the type of film that should be watched in the theatre.

Grade = B

December – Yes, No, Maybe

A new month, a new “Yes, No, Maybe”–December is looking good.

YES – 12/09/11 – Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy

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I’ve been waiting for this one for a while.

YES – 12/21/11 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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They moved the release date up from 12-25-11; and I obviously grabbed this poster image from  a foreign website.

YES – 12/30/11 – The Iron Lady

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They’re sneaking this one in just in time for the Oscar races.

NO – 12/16/11 – Mission Impossible:  Ghost Protocal

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Shouldn’t this series die already.

MAYBE – 12/02/11 – Shame

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Will this be our times Last Tango in Paris?

MAYBE – 12/21/11 – The Adventures of Tintin

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I’m not entirely sold on Tintin.  I’m not a fan of the comics, and the trailer is not exactly selling me.

MAYBE – 12-25-11 – War Horse

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Another film I’m not entirely sold on.  Interestingly enough, also directed by Steven Spielberg.

7 Best Harrison Ford Movies

Why seven movies?  Because Harrison Ford has had more than five great films, but not quite ten–notice I wrote great, not good; he has had many good films.  My only criteria for this list was that a character could only appear once.

#7:  The Empire Strikes Back

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What?  Han Solo and The Empire Strikes Back are 7th!  You’re full of s%@t!  No, I’m not full of it.  No Harrison Ford list would be complete without Han Solo, but in the end this is not a Harrison Ford movie; it’s an ensemble.  As for the movie itself, this film is the only reason why we still talk about the Star Wars franchise today and why a whole cottage industry of books, comics, and fan art exists.

#6:  The Fugitive

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This is the last non-dour Harrison Ford movie.  With the exception of Air Force One, he appears to be annoyed and constipated in all his later films–again, for the most part they are good but aren’t as engaging as what came before.  As for The Fugitive, the film is tight and straightforward.  A lot of current day filmmakers could learn a well needed lesson about editing and pacing from this film; kudos to the director (Jeb Stuart).

#5:  Hanover Street

Click on image to view Spanish trailer

Yes, it’s a Spanish trailer, but it is the only one I could find.  Anyway, I wish to thank Dr. Paul N. Lazarus, III, for introducing me to this film.  He was a professor of mine when I was briefly a film major at UM and also the producer.  Hanover Street is a good movie with a really good Harrison Ford performance.  It’s a story of a love triangle set during WWII.  The story goes a little off track in the third act, but it’s still a good movie to watch with your better half.

#4:  Blade Runner

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Question: which of the many cuts of Blade Runner do you look for to watch?  Answer: whichever one that does not have the narration and comes with the making-of featurette.  Blade Runner is one of the most visually influential films of the last thirty years, and both Harrison Ford & Rutger Hauer give great performances that hold the film together.

#3:  Witness

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A damn good movie with another great performance–not only for Ford, but the whole cast as well.  Peter Weir is another director that makes a lot of films that I like.  The story is engaging, and the acting is natural & effortless.  The improvised dance scene between Ford and Kelly McGillis is one of the small highlights.

#2:  Frantic

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I’m not a fan of Roman Polanski, and I think he is overrated.  But this is by far his best film, probably because it’s paced like an Alfred Hitchcock film.  If anyone ever asks you what a suspense film is, you can give them this as a perfect example.  As the story moves forward, you are brought more and more into it; you become more involved with Dr. Richard Walker (Harrison Ford), his plight, and his urgency.

#1:  Raiders of the Lost Ark

Whoops! Grabbed that from the "Fantasy" Folder

Sorry, here is the right poster.

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Was there any doubt?  What’s not to love about this film?  Spielberg at his best, Ford at his best, everyone at their best.  The perfect example of an Action/Adventure film.  Raiders of the Lost Ark was rightly nominated for Best Picture and wrongly lost to Chariots of Fire.  Reds, On Golden Pond, and Atlantic City were also nominated for Best Picture that year.  Which of these films do you remember?  Have watched more than once?  Actually care about?  I never heard of Atlantic City until I looked up the nominated films for 1981.

I’m glad I shared this list with you, but creating it left me a little bittersweet.  Sweet in that I was able to share my thoughts — bitter in the realization that Harrison Ford’s best days are behind him.  His heyday really was the 80s.  But the 80s were fun!

What are your thoughts?