Club Paradise (1986, directed by Harold Ramis)


I think I was nine or ten years old when I first saw Club Paradise on HBO.  I remember thinking it was pretty funny.

I recently rewatched Club Paradise and I discovered that ten year old me had terrible taste in movies.

Robin Williams plays Jack Moniker, a Chicago fireman who gets blown out of a building while rescuing a dog.  Living off of his disability payments, he retires to the island of St. Nicholas, which is basically Jamaica but with less weed.  Jack and reggae musician Ernest Reed (Jimmy Cliff) open up their own Club Med-style resort, Club Paradise.  Jack doesn’t know much about the resort business but he does know how to put together a good brochure.  Almost the entire cast of SCTV shows up at Club Paradise, looking for a tropical vacation.  Things quickly go wrong because Jack doesn’t know how to run a resort and there’s also an evil developer (played by Brian Doyle-Murray) who wants Club Paradise to fail so that he can get the land.

Club Paradise has got a huge and impressive cast, the majority of whom probably signed on because they were looking forward to a paid Caribbean vacation.  Peter O’Toole plays the British-appointed governor of St. Nicholas.  Twiggy plays Jack’s girlfriend.  Joanna Cassidy plays a reporter and Adolph Caesar is cast in the role of St. Nicolas’s corrupt prime minister.  Because the film was directed by Harold Ramis, it is full of Ramis’s co-stars from SCTV.  Andrea Martin tries to get her husband to enjoy the islands as much as she’s enjoying them.  Joe Flaherty is the crazed pilot who flies people to the resort.  Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy play two nerdy friends who are both named Barry and who are only interested in scoring weed, getting laid, and working on their tan.  Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy playing nerds?  It’s a shock, I know.

There’s enough funny people in Club Paradise to ensure that there are a few isolated laughs.  Not surprisingly, the movie comes to life whenever Moranis and Levy are onscreen.  (If I had to guess, I imagine they were the reason why ten year-old me liked this movie so much.)  Needless to say, Jimmy Cliff also provides a killer soundtrack.  But Club Paradise ultimately doesn’t work because the script is too disjointed and it feels more like an uneven collection of skits than an actual film.  It’s impossible to tell whether we’re supposed to think of Club Paradise as being the worst resort ever or if we’re supposed to be worried that the bad guys will shut it down.  For a movie like this, you need a strong central presence to hold things together.  Unfortunately, Robin Williams’s style of comedy is too aggressive for the role of Jack.  The role was originally written for Bill Murray and it shows.  Most of Jack’s lines sound like things you would expect Bill Murray to say in his trademark laid back fashion and it is easy to imagine Murray redeeming some of Club Paradise‘s weaker scenes simply by attitude alone.  Instead, Robin Williams is so frantic that you never buy he could be happy living a laid back life on a Caribbean island.  As played by Williams, Jack often comes across as being unreasonably angry at everyone staying at Club Paradise and it’s hard to care whether or not he manages to save his resort or not.

Club Paradise was a bomb at the box office.  Harry Shearer, who was originally credited with working on the screenplay, hated the movie so much that he requested his name be removed from the credits.  (Instead, credit is given to Edward Roboto.)  As a result of the film’s failure, it would be 7 years before Harold Ramis would get to direct another movie.  Fortunately, that movie was Groundhog Day and this time, Ramis was able to get Bill Murray.

Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil (2006, directed by James Dodson)


After an intelligence satellite reveals that the North Koreans have built a nuclear missile that can hit anywhere in the world and that they’re currently pointing the missile right at the United States, the President (Peter Coyote) orders a team of Navy SEALs to parachute into North Korea and take out the missile site.  At the last minute, the mission is canceled but two SEALs have already jumped out of the airplane and two more follow because a SEAL leaves no man behind.

While the world sits on the brink of war, the stranded SEALs attempt to reach the missile site and knock it out of commission.  Unfortunately, two of the SEALs get killed by the North Koreans and the two survivors end up getting captured and are forced to undergo extreme torture.  With time running out, the president authorizes a military strike on the missile site, a move that could plunge the world into a nuclear war.  It’s now up to Lt. James (Nicholas Gonzalez) and Master Chief Callaghan (Matt Bushell) to escape from the North Koreans and complete their mission before the stealth bombers show up and do their thing.

Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil has nothing to do with the previous Behind Enemy Lines film, beyond featuring a Naval officer stranded in enemy territory.  Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil is one of those films that should be simple and easy to follow but it’s so frantically directed and edited that it’s actually difficult to understand what’s going on from scene to scene.  This isn’t a case where, as in Black Hawk Down, the film is deliberately confusing in order to show what it would be like to be under enemy fire.  Instead, Behind Enemy Lines II feels as if it was edited by someone who was getting paid per jump cut.  It becomes difficult to keep track of who is shooting at who and the overuse of the shaky handheld camera effect didn’t help.  Also, for some reason, there are some fantasy sequences that feel as if they belong in a different movie.

The scenes in Washington D.C., where the President and his advisers debate whether or not to plunge the world into war, are marginally better.  Peter Coyote has the right amount of moral authority to play the president and the great Glenn Morshower (you may remember him as Aaron of the Secret Service on 24) plays the admiral who suggests that maybe it would be a good idea not to hastily destroy the world.  Because this movie was made in 2006, the actress playing the Secretary of State is a dead ringer for Condoleezza Rice.

Behind Enemy Lines II is not a good movie but it made enough money to get a sequel, which I’ll review tomorrow.

 

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #22: Ride Along 2 (dir by Tim Story)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Sunday, December 4th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook: “Name your vagina by using the last movie you watched!”  While everyone else was able to answer with “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Christmas Vacation,” and “Zombeavers,” I was forced to answer “Ride Along 2,” because I watched it last night.  If only I had held off on watching Ride Along 2, I could have answered Moana.

Oh well…

ANYWAY — I recorded Ride Along 2 off of HBO on November 11th.  The main reason that I recorded it was because, at the time, I was panicking over the fact that the year is nearly over and there’s still a lot of 2016 releases that I haven’t seen.  You know me.  I’m a cinema completist and I like to see everything.  As a result, I’ve been recording every single 2016 movie that I come across on cable, even if the film in question is one that I really didn’t have much interest in actually watching.

Like this one for instance…

Ride Along 2 is the latest entry in the ever-growing Ken Jeong Gets Kidnapped genre of action comedies.  At some point in the future, film historians will wonder why Ken Jeong was always either getting abducted or arrested in violent comedies.  I imagine that they’ll devote most of their time to studying The Hangover films and Community but they’ll still find some time to consider Ride Along 2.

In Ride Along 2, Ken Jeong is abducted by two Atlanta detectives who have come to Miami to investigate his boss, murderous drug lord Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt).  The two detectives are James Payton (Ice Cube) and his future brother-in-law, Ben Barber (Kevin Hart).  Of course, it’s really not important that one of them is named Payton or that the other one is named Ben.  Ultimately, they are Ice Cube and Kevin Hart.  Payton is tough and no-nonsense.  Ben is short and outspoken and given to histrionics.  Needless to say, the plot is mostly just an excuse for Kevin Hart to get on Ice Cube’s nerves.

And it’s all pretty predictable.  There’s really nothing in Ride Along 2 that you haven’t already seen in a hundred other action comedies, including the first Ride Along.  So, how much you enjoy this film is going to depend on how much you like Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, and Ken Jeong.  (And I guess it might help if you’re a Benjamin Bratt fan as well.  Are there Benjamin Bratt fans?)  And, I will say this.  Nobody glowers with quite the skill of Ice Cube.  Ken Jeong may play the same role a hundred times but he knows what he’s doing.  And Kevin Hart is actually a good actor, even if his films rarely give him a chance to show the full depth of his ability.

Ride Along 2 is predictable and kinda forgettable.  It didn’t do much for me.  But, at the same time, it’s thoroughly nonpretentious and totally inoffensive.

I still think Moana is a better name, though…

Back to School Part II #9: National Lampoon’s Animal House (dir by John Landis)


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You know what?  I’m going to start this review with the assumption that you’ve already seen the classic 1978 college comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House.  At the very least, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard of it and that you know the general details.  Animal House was not only a huge box office success but it’s also one of the most influential films ever made.  Almost every comedy released since 1978 owes a debt to the success of Animal House.  Just as every subsequent high school film was directly descended from American Graffiti, every college film features at least a little Animal House in its DNA.

So, with that in mind, who is your favorite member of Delta House?

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Most people, I think, would automatically say Bluto (played by John Belushi) and certainly, Bluto is the best known and perhaps best-remembered member of the cast.  As played by Belushi, Bluto is the film’s rampaging ID and he’s such a force of nature that, whenever I rewatch Animal House, I’m surprised to be reminded of the fact that he’s not really in the film that much.  He’s present for the parties, of course.  He imitates a zit and starts a food fight.  He gives a rousing speech, in which he reminds the members of the Delta House that America didn’t give up after “the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!”  He destroys a folk singer’s guitar and I personally love the scene where he tries to cheer up a despondent pledge by smashing a beer bottle over his head.  But really, Bluto is used very sparingly and he’s one of the few members of the ensemble not to get his own subplot.  Bluto’s great but he’s not my favorite member of Delta House.

Hoover

Believe it or not, my favorite member of Delta House is Robert Hoover (James Widdoes).  Hoover is the president of Delta House and, when we first meet him, he seems like he’s way too clean-cut to be in charge of the “worst house” on campus.  But then, as the film progresses, we discover that Hoover may not be as openly crazy as everyone else but he’s definitely a Delta.  Just watch him in the Toga party scene.  Just look at him in the picture that shows up during the closing credits.  It took me a while to realize that Hoover, the future public defender, was giving the camera the finger.  Hoover may look uptight but he’s secretly a wild man!

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One of the things that I love about Animal House is that it truly is an ensemble film.  There’s not a weak performance to be found in the entire movie.  No matter how wild or over-the-top the humor gets, the entire cast commits to their roles and, as a result, they keep this movie grounded.  You actually find yourself caring about whether or not they get kicked off campus.  You truly believe that the members of Delta House have been friends for years but, even more importantly, you believe the same thing about their rivals at Omega House.  For that matter, it may be easy to make fun of Dean Wormer (John Vernon, setting the template for all evil deans to come) but you never doubt that he’s been in charge of Faber College for years and that he’s planning on being in charge for years to come.  As played by the deep-voiced and sinister-looking Vernon, Wormer becomes every unreasonable authority figure.  When he explains the concept of super secret probation, he does so with a smug pleasure that is practically chilling.  When he mentions that the members of Delta House can now be drafted, the smile on his face is terrifying.

Wormer

You know who else gives a really good performance in Animal House?  Donald Sutherland.  At the time, Sutherland was the biggest star in the film.  He was offered either a percentage of the grosses or a flat fee.  Sutherland thought the film would flop, took the flat fee, and missed out on millions as a result. Sutherland plays Prof. Jennings, an English teacher who, in the only scene actually set in a classroom, desperately tries to get his bored students to pay attention to him.  There’s something so poignant about the way Jennings begs his students to turn in their papers.  “I’m not joking,” he sputters, “this is my job!”

Jennings

Jennings turns out to be free thinker.  He turns Boone (Peter Riefert), Katie (Karen Allen), and Pinto (Tom Hulce) onto marijuana.  There’s an anachronistic peace sign hanging in his apartment (Animal House takes place in 1963) but no matter.  Far worse is the fact that he temporarily breaks up Boone and Katie!  Everyone knows those two belong together!

Bluto and Flounder

You know who else doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in Animal House?  Stephen Furst.  He plays Flounder, a new pledge.  Flounder is just so enthusiastic about everything and he doesn’t even seem to be upset when Wormer tells him, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”  I love the enthusiastic way that Furst delivers simple lines like, “What’s my Delta Chi name?” and “Brother Bluto!  Brother D-Day!  What are you doing here!?” My favorite Flounder moment comes when he accidentally gives a horse a heart attack.  Technically, it shouldn’t be funny but it is because Furst, Belushi, and Bruce McGill (playing the role of D-Day) so thoroughly throw themselves into their roles.  For that matter, the horse did a pretty good job too.

Boone and Otter

But that’s not all!  How can I praise the ensemble of Animal House without mention Tim Matheson, who plays Otter, the future Beverly Hills gynecologist?  Or what about Kevin Bacon, playing Omega pledge Chip Diller?  This was Bacon’s first role and who can forget him shouting, “Thank you, sir, may I have another!” while being initiated into Omega House?  Or how about James Daughton and Mark Metcalf, as the two leaders of Omega House?  They were villains truly worth hissing!

Omega House

And yes, I know that a lot of the humor in Animal House is not politically correct but who cares?  It’s a hilarious movie, one that is full of good actors at their absolute best.  Yes, they’re all a bunch of privileged sexists blah blah blah, but I’d still party with the Delta House.  They know how to have fun and, even if they did wreck the Homecoming Parade, they had a good reason!

parade

And so is the movie.  Every time I see Animal House, I feel good about the world.  In 1978, The Deer Hunter was named best picture by the Academy.  Well, you know what?  With all due respect to that long epic about the tragedy of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War,  all the Oscars should have gone to Animal House!

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In conclusion … SING IT!

Let me t-t-tell you ’bout some friends I know
They’re kinda crazy but you’ll dig the show
They can party ’till the break of dawn
at Delta Chi you can’t go wrong

Otter, he’s the ladies man
Every girl falls into his hands
Boon and Katy playing “Cat and Mouse”

and Mrs. Wormer, she’s the queen of the
ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

That Pinto he’s a real swell guy
Clorette was jailbait but he gave her a try
Chip, Doug, and Greg, they’re second to none
They studied under Attila the Hun

Mr. Jennings has got his wig on tight
Flouder’s left shoe’s always on his right
Babs and Mandy are having a pillow fight
With D-Day, Hoover, Otis Day and the Knights

DO THE BLUTO

Come on baby, dance with me
Maybe if we do the Bluto
We will get an “A” in lobotomy

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

Aw, come on!
Let me tell ya
Dean Wormer tried to shut us down
But he fell and he broke his crown
He didn’t know about the Delta spunk
He came in handy when we were short a skunk

At the

ANIMAL HOUSE

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Shattered Politics #90: FDR: American Badass! (dir by Garrett Brawith)


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So, as I was thinking about Hyde Park On Hudson, I started to ask myself: what would have made that movie better?  Obviously, the script could have been improved.  Bill Murray could have had some better lines.  Laura Linney could have been a bit less bland.  The direction could have been a bit more dynamic…

And of course, the film could have used a few more werewolves.  Maybe not a huge amount of werewolves because, after all, you do want to keep things plausible.  But, at the same time, a werewolf or two would have livened things up.

And then I thought about Sunrise at Campobello and I realized that film was also missing something.  Once again, the film could have used some werewolves.

“My God,” I thought, “aren’t there any filmmakers out there willing to combine Franklin Roosevelt with werewolves!?”

And then, I realized that there was!

The 2012 film FDR: American Badass! features Barry Bostwick in the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  At the start of the film, Roosevelt is the dynamic and athletic governor of New York.  However, while out jogging one day, Frank is attacked by a werewolf and ends up contracting polio as a result.  Recovering in the hospital, Roosevelt decides to run for President and kill werewolves.

Over the course of the film, he does just that.  And, when it turns out that the leaders of the Axis Powers are all werewolves as well, FDR single-handedly wins World War II.  Fortunately, with the help of Albert Einstein, FDR gets his wheelchair equipped with all the latest weaponry.

And did I mention that, as President, FDR smokes weed with Abraham Lincoln (Kevin Sorbo)?  Because he so totally does…

So, at this point, you’re probably already getting the feeling that FDR: American Badass! is kind of a weird film.  And it is.  But what makes the film better than you might think is the fact that it totally commits itself to making no sense.  FDR: American Badass! is full of scenes that are alternatively hilarious, disgusting, and offensive but it works because, unlike something like A Million Ways To Die In The West, FDR: American Badass! is at least creative in its stupidity.  Say what you will about the idea of FDR killing werewolves, the fact of the matter is that there’s only one film where you can actually see that happen.

So, should you see FDR: American Badass?

Go back and read the film’s title.

Did it make you roll your eyes and say, “Oh my God, that is so stupid?”  If so, you’ll probably have a similar reaction to the film itself.

On the other hand, did the title make you smile?  If so, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in this movie.

At the very least, FDR: American Badass! is better than Hyde Park on Hudson.

6 Late Film Reviews: 300: Rise of Empire, About Last Night, Adult World, Jersey Boys, Ride Along, and Trust Me


Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list.  (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see.  December is going to be a busy month.)  With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.

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1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)

Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film.  I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas.  The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.

At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons.  First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me.  Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies.  Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.

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2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)

Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love.  (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.)  I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.

About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall).  All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears.  The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.

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3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)

In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate.  Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college.  She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore.  Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack).  Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé.  However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).

Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it.  The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws.  Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way.  Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.

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4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender.  In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together.  It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.

Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing.  It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks.  The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.

Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.

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5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)

School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve.  In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect.  Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white!  You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?

On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James.  As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.

Trust Me

6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)

In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars.  He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children.  After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress.  Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production.  Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet).  However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye.  He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia.  When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her.  It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…

I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film.  As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone.  The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy.  As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.

And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws.  If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.

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.