Film Review: Lincoln (dir. by Steven Spielberg)


I am a history nerd.

If you’ve read my previous reviews here on the Shattered Lens, that’s not necessarily a major revelation.  Still, before I talk about Steven Spielberg’s latest film, the sure-to-be Oscar nominated Lincoln, you should know where I’m coming from as a reviewer.  Cinema may be my number one love but history, and especially political history, runs a close second.  To me, there is nothing more fascinating than learning how those in the past both viewed and dealt with the issues that we still face in the present.  Whereas some people take pride in being able to name every player that’s ever played for the Dallas Cowboys, I take pride in the fact that I can not only name every President and Vice President in order but I can also tell you exactly who they had to defeat in order to serve in those offices.

I love history and therefore, it was hard for me not to feel as if Lincoln was a film that was made specifically for me.  Covering the final four months of the life of the 16th president, this film tells the story of Lincoln’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment and to bring an end to the U.S. Civil War.  The film also documents Lincoln’s troubled marriage to the unstable Mary and his son’s decision to enlist in the Union Army.  Even though Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner don’t include any vampires*, there’s still a lot going on in Lincoln and it is to their credit that the film remains compelling despite the fact that everyone already knows how the story is going to end.

Daniel Day-Lewis is getting a lot of critical acclaim for his performance in the title role and, for once, I actually have to agree with the critics.  Abraham Lincoln is one of the most iconic figures in American history.  He is such an icon that, at times, it’s hard to believe that this larger-than-life figure, with his stove-pipe hat and his homely face, was an actual human being who lived and breathed and died like any other human being.  It’s easier to think of him in the same way that Jesus Christ used to be represented in films like Ben-Hur, as an inspiring character who is always standing just a little bit off-camera.  The brilliance of Day-Lewis’s performance is that he makes us believe that this legendary figure could actually exist with all the rest of history’s mortals.  For lack of a better term, Day-Lewis humanizes Lincoln.  His performance contains all the bits of the Lincoln legend: the fatalistic melancholy, the steely resolve, the quick humor, and occasional flashes of self-doubt.  The genius of the performance is the way that it takes all the legendary pieces and arranges them to create a portrait of a very believable man.

Though the film is dominated by Day-Lewis’s lead performance, the film’s supporting cast does a good job at bringing to life the people around Lincoln.  Whenever one film can manage to find roles for Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn, Jared Harris, James Spader, John Hawkes, and Jackie Earle Haley, you’ve got good reason to be optimistic about what you’re about to see.  Probably the film’s showiest supporting role goes to Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the firebrand abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.  Admittedly, Tommy Lee Jones gives a standard Tommy Lee Jones performance here but, especially when paired with Day-Lewis’s more internal acting style, the end result is still fun to watch.  Also giving a good performance is Sally Field, who plays Lincoln’s mentally unstable wife.  Historians have rarely been kind (or fair) to Mary Lincoln but Field makes her into a difficult but sympathetic figure.  Finally, even though the role of Lincoln’s son is not a challenging one, I’m always happy whenever Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows up onscreen.

Ultimately, however, Lincoln is a Steven Spielberg film.  Spielberg is a very good director but he’s also a very safe one.  The same can be said of Lincoln as a film.  The film’s cinematography, art design, and costume design are all brilliantly done and award-worthy but it’s still hard not to occasionally wish that Spielberg would have enough faith in his audience that he wouldn’t feel the need to have John Williams provide constant musical cues to let us know what we are supposed to be feeling about what we’re experiencing.  If you’re looking for hints of moral ambiguity, an unflinching examination of the rivers of blood that flowed on the Civil War battlefield, or for an in-depth portrait of Lincoln’s personal demons (and most historians agree that he had a few), you might want to look elsewhere.  This is not Martin Scorsese’s Lincoln.  This is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  This is a film that is meant to be inspiring (as opposed to thought-provoking) and, for the most part, it succeeds.

I have to admit that I went into Lincoln expecting to be disappointed.  Ever since the film first went into production in 2011, websites like Awards Daily have been hyping this film to death.  Before many of them had even seen the completed film, online critics were announcing that both the film and Daniel Day-Lewis were the clear front-runners for the Oscars in 2013.  As anyone who has read my previous reviews on this site knows, nothing turns me off more than the bandwagon mentality of the critical establishment.  Often times, when a film is embraced as vehemently and as early as Lincoln has been, I feel almost honor-bound to be a hundred times more critical of it than I would be of a film like Step Up Revolution.

However, Lincoln is a rarity.  It’s a film that, for the most part, actually lives up to all the hype.

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*I imagine that little joke will cause a lot of confusion to anyone who, ten years in the future, happens to stumble across this review.  To you, future reader who has forgotten all about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I can only apologize.

Scenes I Love: Saving Private Ryan


With Veteran’s Day coming to a close I would just like to share a scene that encompasses the sort of people that make up the men and women of our military. While this scene is from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan I think the sentiment shared by Capt. Miller to his squad works just as well today as we find more and more of our country’s civilians being called in to do their military duty as part of the nation’s Reserve Force.

Yes, the military now is an all-volunteer one, but it doesn’t count those men and women who make up the reservists force. These soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors have done their tour of active duty and decided to join the reserve force on a part-time basis. They do this knowing that when the time comes they might be called to answer the call from the country’s military to take up their uniform once again and deploy to a war zone as they have done so for the past decade in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These are doctors, police men and women, lawyers, teachers, construction workers and men and women from every walk of life.

I know that it’s not popular to venerate and admire these people in today’s day and age, because to do so means people like myself and others glorify war and against peace. People have become cynical to the point that they deride these people for getting themselves in the predicament of leaving behind their families and jobs to fight for a war they might not believe in. These people don’t understand the sacrifice and will to do their duty for their country even if its leaders might fail them in the end.

It’s not just soldiers of the US I speak to about celebrating but every man and woman brave and dedicated enough to do their job either as a volunteer or as part of their nation’s conscription call. It’s these very same people who understand the real cost of war and the first to wish for peace, but until the time comes when they’re not needed anymore they will always answer the call to do their duty.

 

Trailer: Lincoln (dir. by Steven Spielberg)


One of the films for 2012 that’s seen by many as a major player in the end of the year Awards season. Steven Spielberg’s long-delayed and gestating historical drama about Abraham Lincoln will finally make it onto the big-screen this early November. Spielberg had initially chosen Liam Neeson to play the 16th President of these United States but as the project continued to get delayed he backed out and in comes Daniel Day-Lewis to take on a very difficult role.

Lincolnis based off of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of the 16th President, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. With Tony Kushner tasked with finally hashing out a final draft of the screenplay the film finally went into production in 2009. The cast is an ensemble led by Day-Lewis that includes several past Academy Award and Emmy winners like Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field and Hal Holbrook with other acting luminaries like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Walton Goggins, David Straithairn, Jared Harris and Jackie Earle Haley.

The first trailer finally arrived today, September 13, 2012, during a Google+ hangout with Spielberg and Gordon-Levitt and reaction to the trailer seems to range from “give Daniel Day-Lewis the Oscar already” to “an Oscar-bait if there was ever one”. No matter where one sat in their reaction to this trailer it will be interesting to see if Spielberg will come out with a film that doesn’t come off as maudlin and manipulative, but deliver a film that explores and tries to explain why Lincoln became such a beloved President in his time despite making so many unpopular decisions and sitting through the worst era of American history (Civil War) and decades since his death.

Here’s to hoping that the film is less like Amistad and more like Schindler’s List in terms of tone and narrative. We know why Lincoln is seen as the greatest President we ever had. What we want to know is the why’s.

Lincoln arrives in the theaters this November 9, 2012.

Here Are The 2012 Critics’ Choice Movie Award Nominees


Earlier today, the Broadcast Film Critics Association announced their nominations for the 17th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards.  The BFCA is the largest of the so-called “major” critics’ groups (and, interestingly enough, it’s also the newest and the least prestigious) and it has a fairly good track record of predicting the actual Oscar nominations.  The awards themselves will be handed out on January 12th, 2012 in a self-important, kinda seedy ceremony that will be broadcast on VH-1.   

BEST PICTURE
The Artist
The Descendants
Drive
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

BEST ACTOR
George Clooney – The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Michael Fassbender – Shame
Ryan Gosling – Drive
Brad Pitt – Moneyball

BEST ACTRESS
Viola Davis – The Help
Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Charlize Theron – Young Adult
Michelle Williams – My Week With Marilyn

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Kenneth Branagh – My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks – Drive
Nick Nolte – Warrior
Patton Oswalt – Young Adult
Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Sir Andrew Serkis – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Berenice Bejo – The Artist
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
Carey Mulligan – Shame
Octavia Spencer – The Help
Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Asa Butterfield – Hugo
Elle Fanning – Super 8
Thomas Horn – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Ezra Miller – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Saoirse Ronan – Hanna
Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
The Artist
Bridesmaids
The Descendants
The Help
The Ides of March

BEST DIRECTOR
Stephen Daldry – Extreme Loud & Incredibly Close
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Nicolas Winding Refn – Drive
Martin Scorsese – Hugo
Steven Spielberg – War Horse

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
50/50 – Will Reiser
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
Win Win – Screenplay by Tom McCarthy, Story by Tom McCarthy & Joe Tiboni
Young Adult – Diablo Cody

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Descendants – Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Eric Roth
The Help – Tate Taylor
Hugo – John Logan
Moneyball – Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Story by Stan Chervin

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Artist – Guillaume Schiffman
Drive – Newton Thomas Sigel
Hugo – Robert Richardson
Tree of Life – Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse – Janusz Kaminski

BEST ART DIRECTION
The Artist – Production Designer: Laurence Bennett, Art Director: Gregory S. Hooper
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Production Designer: Stuart Craig, Set Decorator: Stephenie McMillan
Hugo – Production Designer: Dante Ferretti, Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo
The Tree of Life – Production Designer: Jack Fisk, Art Director: David Crank
War Horse – Production Designer: Rick Carter, Set Decorator: Lee Sandales

BEST EDITING
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion
Drive – Matthew Newman
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
Hugo – Thelma Schoonmaker
War Horse – Michael Kahn

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
The Artist – Mark Bridges
The Help – Sharen Davis
Hugo – Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre – Michael O’Connor
My Week With Marilyn – Jill Taylor

BEST MAKEUP
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Iron Lady
J. Edgar
My Week With Marilyn

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Hugo
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Super 8
The Tree of Life

BEST SOUND
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Hugo
Super 8
The Tree of Life
War Horse

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

BEST ACTION MOVIE
Drive
Fast Five
Hanna
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Super 8

BEST COMEDY
Bridesmaids
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Horrible Bosses
Midnight in Paris
The Muppets

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
In Darkness
Le Havre
A Separation
The Skin I Live In
Where Do We Go Now

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Buck
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Page One: Inside the New York Times
Project Nim
Undefeated

BEST SONG
“Hello Hello” – performed by Elton John and Lady Gaga/written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin – Gnomeo & Juliet
“Life’s a Happy Song” – performed by Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Walter/written by Bret McKenzie – The Muppets
“The Living Proof” – performed by Mary J. Blige/written by Mary J. Blige, Thomas Newman and Harvey Mason, Jr. – The Help
“Man or Muppet” – performed by Jason Segel and Walter/written by Bret McKenzie – The Muppets
“Pictures in My Head” – performed by Kermit and the Muppets/written by Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis and Chen Neeman – The Muppets

BEST SCORE
The Artist – Ludovic Bource
Drive – Cliff Martinez
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Hugo – Howard Shore
War Horse – John Williams

The BFCA has obviously made a lot of nominations and some of them are interesting but I have to be honest: the BFCA as an organization annoys me with how they’re always bragging about how big they are and how they’re so good at celebrating the conventional establishment wisdom.  So, I’ll just say that its nice to see Hanna getting at least some sort of recognition (even if that recognition is kinda minor.)

Here Are The 18 Films Eligible For Best Animated Feature Film


Hi, everyone!  Well, I am in a much better mood than I was when I wrote my last post and that’s because I just remembered that November is the start of Oscar season!  Yay! 

Now, I know that a lot of people make a big deal about how little they care about the Oscars and they always sit around and bitch about how such-and-such movie didn’t win and how the Academy always honors mediocrity and the Academy is biased towards the mainstream and blah blah blah blah blah.  As I explained many times last year, I am aware of all of this and I don’t care.  On an annual basis, the Oscars prove themselves to be a big, tacky, spectacular train wreck and I love them! 

Anyway, as Oscar season slowly creeps to life (it won’t really be here until the various critic groups start handing out their equally silly awards in December), the Academy has released the list of the 18 films that have qualified to compete for the title of Best Animated Film.  Since there are 18 contenders, that means that we’ll actually have five nominees this year as opposed to just three and I for one say, “Yay!” to that.  Whenever I see only three films listed in a category, I have flashbacks to trying to understand the concept of the Holy Trinity.

Anyway, here are the contenders:

The Adventures of TinTin

“Alois Nebel”

“Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked”
“Arthur Christmas”
“Cars 2″
“A Cat in Paris”
“Chico & Rita”
“Gnomeo & Juliet”
“Happy Feet Two”
“Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil”
“Kung Fu Panda 2″
“Mars Needs Moms”
“Puss in Boots”
“Rango”
“Rio”
“The Smurfs”
“Winnie the Pooh”
“Wrinkles”

I have to admit that this has been kind of a strange year for animated films, largely because, as my fellow contributor Leonard Wilson once pointed out on twitter, this is the first year in which it appears that Pixar might not have a contender.  I recently saw Cars 2 and did not shed a tear and quite frankly, going to a Pixar film and not crying  is a bit like going to New Orleans, flashing your boobs, and not getting any beads.  It just makes you question everything.  Winnie the Pooh made me cry.  So did Rango and Kung Fu Panda 2 for that matter.  I haven’t seen Puss In Boots yet but I expect I’ll love it because it’s about a cat and I love cats.  However, I have a feeling that the award will be given to Adventures of TinTin just to keep Steven Spielberg from throwing a hissy fit after War Horse fails to live up to expectations.

What Lisa Watched Last Night: Terra Nova Episode 1.1 — “Genesis”


Last night, I actually put off watching Dancing With The Kinda Stars so that I could catch the first episode of Fox’s much-hyped sci-fi series, Terra Nova.  This show was produced by Mr. Mainstream himself, Steven Spielberg.

Why Was I Watching It?

I was beaten into submission by the nonstop commercials.  Now, I have to admit that the commercials seemed to represent everything that I traditionally dislike in my entertainment: political subtext, “inspiring” speeches, and Stephen Lang.  However, it also had dinosaurs and seriously, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

What’s It About?

Okay, we’re several years into the future and the Earth looks a lot like Blade Runner.  Why?  It turns out that Al Gore was right and ManBearPig has basically messed up the entire planet.  However, there is hope!  There’s some sort of tear in the whole space-time continuum and stepping through it allows a few lucky citizens to go back to the Island from Lost.  However, since this is the FAR future, nobody remembers Lost so they think they’ve actually gone back to the prehistoric past.  In the prehistoric past, time travellers are living in a small community that is overseen by a vaguely menacing guy who we suspect might secretly be evil because he’s named Nathaniel and he’s played by Stephen Lang.

Anyway, there’s this family that has issues in the future and since Jeremy Kyle is long dead (we can only hope), they can’t go on TV to work it out.  So, they go through the time portal.  The father — who is a fugitive from future law — quickly becomes a part of Nathaniel’s security force.  Meanwhile, the teenage children get all rebellious and there’s these guerillas who live outside the compound and they’re led by a woman who might as well have been played by Michelle Rodriguez but wasn’t.

Oh!  And there are dinosaurs!  Yay!

What Worked?

The show is filmed in Australia and, as a result, it’s really pretty to look at. 

I make fun of Stephen Lang a lot because I honestly believe that he gave one of the worst performances in cinematic history in Avatar.  (Fortunately, he was acting opposite Sam Worthington, who can make anyone look like an Olivier by comparison.)  But, I have to admit, Lang is well-cast here and comes the closest to anyone in this episode to actually being memorable.

The dinosaurs are impressive and fun to watch.  Unfortunately, the fake dinosaurs often displayed more personality than the living actors but still, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?  Hopefully, in a future episode, the annoying and way too English talk show host Jeremy Kyle will come through the portal and get devoured (in slow-motion) by one of the dinosaurs.  I may start a letter-writing campaign.

What Doesn’t Work?

A lot.

My biggest complaint with the show was that this episode really put the sloth into the giant sloth.  Seriously.  Lost took its time as well but the show itself was never boring.  Terra Nova, at least in this episode, seems to feel that elaborate special effects are a proper substitute for interesting characters, witty dialogue, and anything else that might organically create narrative momentum.  I actually ended up falling asleep during the final 30 minutes of the show and had to watch the finale off of the DVR.

The dinosaurs were impressive but the rest of the show’s special effects were rather predictable and a little on the bleh side.  The time portal looked like every other time portal in the history of science fiction and the dystopian future looked a lot like Blade Runner but without any of the small details to make it feel like anything other than CGI. 

I am officially bored with shows that use global warming as a plot point.  Seriously, they’re always so smug about it. 

This show is being compared, by many people, to Lost.  Like Lost, the scenery is beautiful and the plot has the potential for a lot of secrets and mysteries to be uncovered.  However, Lost also had a lot of quirky, interesting characters and that’s something that Terra Nova, on the basis of this episode, is lacking.  The first episode of Terra Nova felt a lot like Lost if Lost had only focused on Jack Shepherd and Michael Dawson.  Terra Nova needs its own Sawyers, Hurleys, and John Lockes. 

Now, I want to make clear — my comments here are strictly based on seeing Genesis and a lot of my criticisms could be due to the fact that it’s just the first episode.  Hopefully, as a series, Terra Nova will — much like Lost and Fringe and other comparable shows — evolve beyond the strengths and flaws of the first episode.

“OMG!  Just like me!” Moments

Much like Nathaniel’s rebellious daughter, I would also go a little stir crazy if I was stuck in that highly regimented, socialistic commune.  Seriously, the commune looked like a really bleh place to live.

Lessons Learned

Dinosaurs are neat and global warming is tedious.

Scenes I Love: Saving Private Ryan


I happened across one of my favorite films while channel surfing. The film in question is Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. This is the film which won him his second Best Director Oscar (I still think the film should’ve won Best Picture over Shakespeare In Love) and the film which helped redefine not just how war films were shot from 1998 on, but also de-glorify World War II on film.

My favorite scene from this film will always be the opening D-Day Landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy. It’s a scene that’s over 22-minutes in length and shows the utter chaos and destruction heaped on American troops as they attempted to land on the beach to take their objectives. While there have been war film before Saving Private Ryan that depicted war as the hell it truly is they were mostly about the Vietnam War. Rarely did we ever get a World War II-based war film which showed war in realistic fashion. Spielberg broke that taboo by making the battle scenes in his film — especially this extended opening sequence — done as realistic as possible without actually having people killed for real on-screen.

When this film first came out in the summer of 1998 no one knew what to make of it. This opening sequence became the talk of everyone who went to see the film. To say that they were shocked by what they saw was an understatement. Even now with over a decade since the film was released and people having seen this scene over and over again it still retain it’s impact. It’s not even the grand scale of the production required to film this action sequence which made this scene so memorable. It was little things. Like a mortally wounded American GI crying out to his mother while trying to keep his blown out insides from spilling out. Then there’s the scene of another young soldier praying furiously with his rosary beads as men around him die by the score.

This scene also showed what most World War II films of the past failed to do. It showed both sides behaving barbarically. In the past, only the Germans were shown in a bad light. In Saving Private Ryan we see that American soldiers were also prone for shooting surrendering troops and/or not mercy-killing enemy soldiers being burned alive (actions that have been well-documented by historians). This scene also showed just how courageous the young men of this generation which Tom Brokaw has called “The Greatest Generation”. Men who went off to war not for material gains, but for an idea that they had to stop evil (Nazi and Hitler) from taking all of Europe and, maybe, the world itself.

There’s a reason why Saving Private Ryan is in my list for greatest films of all-time and why this scene remains one of my all-time favorites.