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Sunday, 24 February 2013

THIS WEEK: Lincoln / The Book of Eli / Infamous

0 - No Redeeming Feature

1 - Poor

2 - Passable

3 - Good.  Rent it.

4 - Excellent!

5 - Must See!!


LINCOLN (2013 - UK Certificate 12)

This should not be called Lincoln; based on a small part of a far greater work about the man, it focuses specifically on the passing of the thirteenth amendment to end slavery, rather than the man himself.  The movie is a bit too stuffy for the first hour; being as slow as it is, it is surprising how some areas at its heart are not as developed as they should be.  The relationships and underhanded goings on should have been given more room to breathe, for as fascinating as they are, the heavy legalese being squeezed in, without time to ground and explain it in a dramatic way, may easily confound a percentage of the audience, who really do want to keep up.

When you have a cast that includes Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levvitt, David Strathairn, John Hawkes and James Spader to name a few, the latter two of whom have great fun as a couple of flies in the Democrats' ointment, you really want to ensure you're getting the mileage from them.  Unfortunately, as terrific as the performances are, many parts register as less important, and more passing.  In fact, I maintain this would have made a better TV series akin to Band of Brothers, which was a great success, than it does a movie; everybody involved would have had a role that felt utterly complete, the consequence of which would have been a more involving drama .

With all of this said, it does pick up the pace nicely for the second half, looks beautiful, and features flawless performances from Tommy-Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, with the most interesting character arc, and Daniel Day-Lewis, who has undoubtedly defined Abraham Lincoln so perfectly, any efforts in future will be unable to compare.  There is some fantastic dialogue going on through the movie, and as heavy as some it is, it does not detract from how monumental a piece of work Spielberg has created.  This is a film that may well be studied as part of school curriculum, full of stagey, "history lesson" tone; it is to the individual audience member to decide whether of not they like that.

Let's be clear, there is absolutely no disputing all that makes Lincoln a good movie, but it must also be made clear that it is not a film by which everyone will be enthralled.  Technically impressive and understated, surprisingly lacking in Spielberg's tendency to go a little overboard on the sentimentality, and this includes by way of John Williams' score; there has been talk of it being heavy-handed, but I did not feel that at all.  It is to be admired that Spielberg is not presenting us the President as a perfect hero, but rather a man with an agenda, as well as the power and fortitude to bring that agenda to fruition.  Perhaps this is the reason the movie does not close on the shot it feels like it should, but rather continues through the report of the President's death which, having seen all the efforts of the past two hours, does admittedly have some power, but nevertheless feels slightly misjudgedSpielberg's general approach, however, does give weight to the idea that we are getting factual account rather than a romantic vision.

So, classic performances in a film as monumental as its poster suggests, which just happens to not be the masterpiece I wanted.  Nevertheless, Daniel needs to make room on that Oscar shelf of his.



At cinemas.
Catch it if you like:  Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee-Jones, The Consipartor, The West Wing

THE BOOK OF ELI  (2010 - UK Certificate 15)


The Hughes Brothers have been responsible for some interesting work, with the biggest note going to Menace II Society and Dead Presidents in the 90s; few could say their work is without its fascinating elements, and with The Book of Eli they deliver a movie that is full of great bits and pieces, if not wholly successful.  Gary Oldman is terrifying as Carnegie, leader of a band of misfits whose sole purpose is to locate a book, the one of its kind remaining in tact after a great war that scorched and ruined the old world.  Denzel Washington is Eli, a man who walks west, knowing he will find a place where the book he carries with him can be put to good use in the new world.  Their paths inevitably (and conveniently) cross, and so begins the allegory.

It is a flawed screenplay that performs a frustrating side-step of certain issues, about which I cannot be detailed without spoiling the film, and it featured an under-developed first half, as well as a role that Mila Kunis is never allowed to properly get her teeth into.  That said, the film boasts a bleak post-apocalypse look that is not dissimilar to The Road, and the Hughes' great visual flair, editing of sound and use of music, the fantastic lead performances and an impressively poetic use of metaphor for the righteous vs. the corrupt, make The Book of Eli a film worth watching.  As a side note, Malcolm McDowell turning up in anything is always fun, so keep an eye out in the finale scene.



To rent or buy.
Catch it if you like:  The Road

INFAMOUS (2007 - UK Certificate 15) 


A film that has gone under most people's radar, Infamous depicts rather wonderfully the events that lead to Truman Capote's writing of In Cold Blood, and its aftermath for him.  The film struggles with itself at first, but once it finds gear it becomes compulsive viewing, exploring the emotionally dangerous relationship Capote struck up with a killer.  Whilst looking occasionally televisual, it is nevertheless a brilliant balance of humour and melancholy, keeping you entertained and engaged, at the same time never losing track of the morose event at its heart.  It has something to say about Truman, as well; frequently mistaken for a woman, he was a fascinating character and a good, if regularly loose-tongued friend to all around him.

A star-studded cast all turn in terrific performances in a film that was quickly overshadowed by Capote, but if you though Philip S. Hoffman gave a good performance as the man (which he did), then you haven't seen anything yet.  Our very own Toby Jones disappears here, in the second unbelievable screen transformation I have seen this week!  Recommended viewing.



To rent or buy.
Catch it if you like:  Capote, In Cold Blood.

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