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A modern masterpiece
Making a film about Abraham Lincoln is no simple task for a variety of reasons. Lincoln, the man and the story, is such a complex layering of accounts and instances and points-of-view that to try to portray each and all of these in a film would be a fools errand. But if any filmmaker is capable of portraying several of these as well as possibly imaginable, it is Steven Spielberg, and if any actor is capable of bringing this role to life, it is Daniel Day-Lewis.
That being said, it is worth noting that this film is probably the most acting and dialogue driven Spielberg has ever made. This film is a very surprising take on Lincoln, because of how Lincoln has been thought of in the past and because of how he is portrayed to us in history classes. Lincoln is traditionally thought of as a man who was eloquent and grand, most likely because of his appearance and his height. However, as indicated by historical accounts, Lincoln is portrayed in this film as a humble midwestern man who was plainspoken and sincere. He is shown to be a jokester and a storyteller. Day-Lewis does an excellent job of humanizing Lincoln and taking our perception of him from Lincoln, the president and historical figure, to Abe the man.
Equally as impressive as Day-Lewis' performance was Tommy Lee Jones' portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens. Jones' task was, in a way, made even more difficult by the fact that he had to play an old, world weary man while the same could be said of Lincoln himself. He had to, in many ways, parallel Lincoln and be his incarnation in the House of Representatives while still being his own character, and I cannot say that he could have done a better job.
We have been waiting a long time for Spielberg to do a serious historical film in the likes of Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. In a way, this is his grand return to that stage.
The Avengers (2012)
Great film to open up the summer
When I first saw the trailer for The Avengers, I was a little worried that it would just end up being a large special effects feature. Part of this is because this film has so many big name actors who play so many important roles, that one would worry that there would be little character development. However, this film did not fail me, as it kept me on the edge of my seat for all two hours.
Despite all of the big names playing big roles, I felt that the characters in this movie all seemed to interact quite well with each other. This is especially true regarding the conflict that arises between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Both personalities fit the superhero they belonged to and both were able to interact well with each other.
I feel that Joss Whedon was the perfect director for this film as it was very in-keeping with his style. Even in the most action packed scenes, the superheroes managed to crack a few jokes will still seeming as though they were taking the crisis seriously and still sticking to the personality and ethos of their character.
This is a modern superhero film, to the standards of the special effects were set quite high early on. This film without question, met those standards. When large objects would collide, it actually looked like the objects had considerable momentum and were striking other objects with considerable force. Along with having a satisfying story, this film is great eye-candy.
Such a difficult film, is however, not without a few flaws. First is that Nick Fury is supposed the be a brilliant leader, but with so many big characters, it was difficult for Samuel Jackson's acting to shine through. The other problem is that Loki is supposed to be a brilliant mastermind, but he never acts like it. He simply comes off as a villain who was power-hungry, and in the end was consumed by his own ego. My final problem is one that may possibly explained with more knowledge of the Marvel Universe, but I find it a little difficult to foresee that. All along, Loki's plan inside SHIELD's ship was to make Bruce Banner lose control of himself and become The Hulk. This did in fact happen. However, when in Manhattan, Banner was suddenly able to harness his powers to fight against Loki in a relatively controlled way that involved taking orders from Captain America. I simply do not see how he is loses control in Hulk form in one instance and is able to control himself in another instance. These however are small issues and do not take much away from the overall quality of the movie.
The bottom line is that this is definitely a good movie that hopefully preps us for what is about to come soon in The Dark Knight Rises. I intend to see this film again after some time, and I am guessing that I will probably enjoy it.
American History X (1998)
Edward Norton is the saving grace for this film
On my gallant, noble, and impossible quest to see every movie that has ever been deemed to be good, I happened on the title American History X. It was indeed a good film, but that's just it. It was only a good film. It did not give me chills or astound me like many of the other great films that I have seen.
The most wonderful aspect of this film was the acting. When I heard what the film was about, and that Edward Norton was going to play the raving Neo-Nazi brother Derek Vinyard, I was initially disappointed, due to Norton's style of largely plain and deadpan delivery. I didn't think he had it in him to play a raving, deluded racist. I am glad to say that Norton's performance proved me very wrong. The way in which he delivered his lines was so convincing, that I actually experienced some amount of anger at his character, and not just the ideas he espoused. The convoluted logic behind his racism was so thought out and realistic, that it made it very easy to see how people who hold racial prejudices come to hold them. In addition, Ethan Suplee demonstrated impressive versatility in his acting. The first time I saw Suplee in a film was in Remember the Titans, where he played the slightly comical offensive lineman Louie Lastik. His character in this film, Seth, was incredibly dark, singing his White Supremacist songs and saluting Hitler. In general, the acting absolutely blew me away.
The downside to this movie is that the plot sets itself up for much depth in the story, but never takes the dive. In the beginning, Danny's teacher tells Danny that he will be a part of a new class, called American History X, designed to prevent him from going down the same Nazi path as his older brother. This is the title of the film. I think it's fair to expect the film to go into significant depth as to what the substance of the class is, and what Danny would have been learning in the class. But, because of the nature of the film, we never find out. I'm not saying that the film should be changed. I'm just saying that the writers of the film should have made it such that Danny was just given an extra assignment by his teacher, as opposed to having an entirely new course constructed for him.
Another aspect that goes undeveloped is the nature of the character, Lamont, who is Derek's Black friend in prison. Lamont is largely responsible for Derek's epiphany that Black people are, in fact, treated unfairly by law enforcement, and further more that racial hatred is a wasteful way of life. With such an important role in the story, one would think that Lamont's character would have been better explained. Instead, we never learn anything about him, other than the reason that he is in prison.
Another large missing link in this story is the reason for Derek's racism. In Danny's paper, he writes that Derek claims his racism was rooted in his father's murder. Danny claims to believe that his hatred for non-Whites began at an earlier age, when his father told him about affirmative action policies. The film introduces this question, which seems to be a large and significant question, but really only spends about five minutes answering it.
The final large missing puzzle piece, which is a problem that is slightly difficult to solve it whether or not Derek reverts to a life of racism at the end of the film. Not to spoil the film completely, but something happens to Danny at the very end of the film that would force Derek to question what he had learned from his experiences in prison. But, the film simply leaves us hanging there. We do not know whether we should feel happy or sad, for Derek, at the end of this film, when we feel the need to feel some sort of emotion in that regard. There really isn't a way to solve this problem, but it is worth noting.
Overall, this is a good film, with excellent character portrayal. However, it definitely leaves some questions unanswered.
The Descendants (2011)
Beautiful story, but just not quite good enough
The Descendants is a very touching story about a lawyer and a father named Matt King (Clooney) who is forced into a variety of difficult situations when his wife is in a boating accident. With his wife dying, he is forced to get to know his two daughters, Alexandra and Scottie (Woodley and Miller, respectively) and cope with the fact that his wife had been unfaithful to him. Another dimension is added to the story when we learn at the beginning of the film that Matt is part Hawaiian and that he is the trustee of some ancestral land on the island of Kauai, that used to belong to Queen Liliuokalani.
This film plays out very well as we see Matt slowly embracing his paternal role while Alexandra is able to slowly become more mature and fulfill her role as big sister to Scottie. Both Clooney and Woodley do an excellent job playing their roles. Clooney is very convincing as an upper middle class father who is out of touch with his family, while Woodley's performance as a fragile teenager who finds conflict amidst her own personal problems and the issues that the family is going through.
However, in some way this film falls a bit short of greatness, because it sets up a few dimensions for the story that are never fulfilled or even discussed. For example, in the beginning of the story, Alexandra is introduced as an out-of-control teen who has a drug problem. When she comes home from boarding school, she tells her father that her condition is improving, after which we never hear about her problem again. In addition, at the beginning, we see that Scottie is having problems with the other children in school and that she is having trouble expressing herself and the loss that she is going through due to pending loss of her mother. We do not really see this develop in any way, and in the end, we just see her crying over the loss, which is supposed to indicate that she has finally found a way to let her feelings out. In that sense, I felt a little short changed by the end. The final flaw in this film is the addition of the character, Sid (Krause). Sid serves little to no purpose in this film. He is in no way a dynamic character, nor does he serve to help any of the other characters develop. At the beginning, he simply appears as Alexandra's immature love interest and from that point on, he is just strung along for the ride.
Overall, I feel this film was good but that it doesn't live up to the hype and praise that it has been receiving. It's nice to see once, but that's about it
One of the worst films I have ever seen!
I recall this being the in-flight movie when I was on a plane to Bangalore once. It was the longest flight of my life. This film fails on every level. The acting is wooden and over-the-top. The characters are empty vessels that will become anything that the story needs them to become at any particular time. And the plot is one of the most incoherent and nonsensical I have seen in my life.
The film begins with a wealthy man by the name of Kabir Malhotra inviting several individuals of importance along with a reporter to his home on the Greek island of Samos. He explains that one of them is responsible for selling one of his daughters into child prostitution, which means that the only reason he invited the other individuals is to make sure that the film has the suspense that it needs. In addition he informs us that the reporter who he invited is the twin sister of his daughter. This, of course, is meant only to make the audience gasp, as it adds absolutely nothing to the story.
This is how the story begins. After this we see the character Neil Menon, played by Abhishek Bachchan, morph from casino owner, to drug smuggler, to undercover cop in a matter of fifteen minutes. He manages to kill of the rest of the rich people who were invited to Malhotra's house for no particular reason other than to add in a couple of action sequences and introduce his cop partner. During this time, the film manages to insert a flashback love story that played out between Menon and Malhotra's lost daughter, which ends up amounting to nothing. We also learn that Malhotra has been killed, which means that the original storyline is just simply dropped so we can find out who killed Malhotra. In the end, the story amounts to the cliché ending of: the guy was killed by his evil twin with the help of the butler. I'm not joking. This is actually what happened.
This is easily one of the most awful films I have ever seen and is a massive waste of time. Do not watch this!!
One of the best films of the year!
Now, you may be asking yourself why I declared this to be one of the best films of the year, but gave it a nine out of ten. Not to worry. I do not give out many tens. I reserve those for movies that I deem to be some of the best movies of all time. Nevertheless, upon hearing about this film, I was worried that it would simply be a low-quality rehashing of "The Fighter". When I finally saw this film, I was pleasantly surprised and extremely impressed with everything that they had done. "Warrior" is not just another sports movie that portrays an individual or a team overcoming great odds and finally reaching victory on a high level. This story has multiple layers and satisfies on multiple levels.
This is a story about three characters, two of whom are MMA fighters and one of whom is their father. It portrays how a fighting championship called Sparta brings a family together after they have become strangers to each other. The two sons, Tommy and Brendan Conlon, feel they have been neglected by their father, Paddy, for their entire lives, due to his drinking problem, while the brothers have become distant as Brendan has started a family while Tommy joined the Marines. Tommy feels that Brendan betrayed him by not joining the Marines with him, while Brendan is disappointed that when distancing himself, Tommy also distanced their mother from him. On top of this, Tommy is fighting to earn money for the family of a fallen comrade, while Brendan is trying to earn money for his wife and children so that they don't have to face foreclosure. All of this comes together seamlessly to build one of the greatest sports films ever made.
Much of the poetic beauty of this film comes together in how the brothers Brendan and Tommy are portrayed as perfect foils of each other. Brendan plays the guy who is settled down and mature, while Tommy plays the rogue Bad Boy who likes to break all the rules and goes against the grain. The makers of this film make this theme play out on several different levels, from the way in which the brothers walk, talk and behave, to the style in which they train and fight. They even go as far as having Joel Edgerton, who plays Brendan, wear white shorts during his fights, and having Tom Hardy, who plays Tommy, wear black shorts. The way in which all of this came together reminded me very much of how, in "Black Swan", the characters Nina and Lily, where perfect foils of each other. I must say that, in this respect, this was done just as well.
The other point I enjoyed about this movie is that the audience doesn't know how this story is going to end like in just about every other sports movie. When you began watching "Remember the Titans", you knew that the movie could only end with the Titans winning the state championship. In "Coach Carter", the Oilers failed to win the championship, and while the film makers tried their best to make the best out of it while still opting out of the standard sports movie ending, it still ended up being disappointing. The makers of this film eliminated that problem by focusing on two competitors instead of one. At no point during the film did we know which one of the brothers was going to win the final fight, which made it all the more thrilling.
My only gripe about this film is a rather small one and does little damage to the film's overall quality. In the beginning of the film, we are lead to believe that the two brothers were once excellent fighters, but have not stepped inside the cage in a very long time. I found it a little difficult to believe that they could become top MMA fighters after only a few months of training. That is really my only criticism for this film, but it really doesn't take away from the rest of the story.
My bottom line is: You must definitely see this movie. I loved it even though my interest in MMA fighting is minimal. After some time, I will probably watch it again, and I will probably enjoy it. This movie definitely earns all the praise it gets.
The Ides of March (2011)
Great acting, but nothing earthshaking
"Ides of March" is the story of a political campaign from the perspective of a campaign aide of the name Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). It is meant to portray the nature of a political campaign and how the entire process is a grueling ordeal. In addition, it is meant to expose some of the under-the-table dealing and corruption involved in the election process.
Stephen Meyers is an idealistic campaign aide, who from the beginning of the campaign, believes strongly that his candidate, Mike Morris (George Clooney), absolutely must win in order for the United States to succeed, as a country. The story depicts how Meyers is broken down by the political process and is turned into a part in the corrupt machine that he is trying to work against.
One of the biggest strong points of this movie is the acting. Ryan Gosling brilliantly plays a young man who is driven by idealistic views of how a country should be and how a government should serve its people. He manages to play an intelligent character who is simply too naive to understand how things really work in national politics. In addition, Phillip Seymour Hoffman does a very precise job playing the campaign manager Paul Zara, depicting him as a a man who has been hardened by many years of weathering a corrupt political system, and has been turned from an idealist to a pragmatic realist.
The weakness in this film is that it fails to convey anything that is already known to people who follow politics. It does not give a fresh perspective that a politically aware moviegoer would be hoping for. It simply gives specific examples of the interaction between two political campaigns as well as the campaigns and the news media.
In the end this is a well written movie with well acted characters, but it simply falls short of reaching its intended goal. This is not a bad watch and would be worth seeing once. Ryan Gosling's performance in this movie is definitely worth consideration for "Best Actor" at the Oscars, but this film will probably not have much of a chance at "Best Picture".
Satisfies, but a bit bland
"Drive" is a film about a stuntman, played by Ryan Gosling, who is forced into a rather sticky situation after aiding in a heist gone wrong. In a time where extravagant special effects and expressive acting are commonplace for such action movies, "Drive" delivers in subtlety and preciseness, however falls short in character depth.
The story begins by introducing us the a character, whom in the credits, is simply referred to as "Driver". The opening scene involves Gosling's character acting as the wheel man for a man or a group of people working to conduct a theft. This scene is very well done in that it gets the audience interested in the story without being over-the-top. All too often in movies, we see loud and gaudy chase scenes in places they do not need to be. This chase scene is perfect in that the makers of the film do not use unnecessary sound effects, but instead choose to show the entire scene from the perspective of the driver, who is portrayed as a man who always displays a calm and collected façade. It is kept very minimal, but still manages to convey the necessary amount of excitement by allowing the audience to listen to a police scanner that the driver is using, and by juxtaposing the escape scene with radio commentary from the fourth quarter of a Los Angeles Clippers game. This theme of minimalism continues throughout the rest of the film, which adds to the film but also leads to a consequence.
This consequence is that, by the end of the film, we still know rather little about the driver's personality. The film is about the driver helping a man get some money from a pawn shop theft, so that he can protect is son and wife, who the driver is in love with. We can figure out that the driver is calm, quiet, and thats about it. We don't know if he is trying to save the wife and son out of compassion or if he is doing it for selfish reasons (so he can steal her from her husband later). By the end of the movie, the driver is still a relatively blank slate.
The payoff of the minimalism is that it respects the experienced moviegoer and does not feed them images and effects that look false and unconvincing. All of the car crashes in this film look real and seem as though they were actually done and not just simulated. In that respect, this is essentially the polar opposite of any Michael Bay film.
My only other gripe about this film is that there are some aspects that are left incomplete. Near the beginning, the driver is shown to be gearing up for a newly received job and anticipation is built up regarding that job. However, the movie leaves that stone unturned and renders the scene in which the audience receives an explanation of the job pointless. The other incomplete aspect of the film is that the driver misses his chance to woo the woman he is in love with because he kisses her in an elevator while a hit man sent to kill him is in the elevator with them and then proceeds to kill the hit man right in front of her. This is essentially taking away the entire premise of the film and the reason why the driver is doing what he is doing, and flushing it down the toilet, leaving the viewer feeling a little short changed.
The bottom line is that this movie is good, but not amazing, as many are hailing it. It's worth seeing but, really only worth seeing once.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Satisfies, Gets the Job Done
I got the opportunity to see "Tintin" just yesterday, and my bottom line is that it's definitely worth seeing and delivers just about what I had expected out of a "Tintin" film.
I was in anticipation of this film upon the announcement that there would be a "Tintin" movie and that it was going to be made by Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson, but other than that, I was not expecting much. I also had some familiarity with the "Tintin" because I used to read the comic when I was younger.
It appears as though, for this film, Spielberg has taken a page out of his own "Indiana Jones" films, as many of the scenes in this film entail high speed chases, adrenaline filled acrobatics, and daring shootouts. This of course, is fitting because the Tintin comic contains many such sequences.
The film delivered in the sense that it stayed largely true to the comic book series on which it is based. Many of the characters looked exactly as I had imagined their 3D version would look in the movies, and as far as the artistry goes, I think the author of the series, Hergé, would approve. In addition, Spielberg manages to use 3D as much more than a simple gimmick in this film, as it helps many of the characters come alive, especially towards the end of the film, where Tintin, the title character is riding through the streets of Baggar in the climactic action sequence.
The nature and antics of the characters also stayed largely true to their comic book origins. This is especially true for Thomson and Thompson, who were just as I had imagined an animated version of them would be.
However, it addition to my praise, I do have some points of criticism. The first point, I had expected and thus it did not bother me as much as it would have had I not read the original comic book series. "Tintin" is essentially the story of a series of static characters that have fantastic things happen to them. None of these events or happenings have any effect on the characters personality, beliefs or point of view and each of the characters finishes, by the end of the story, at the same place they began. Tintin will always be a courageous reporter with a large traveling budget, and the villain (in this case, Sakharine) goes through no change of his own, or at least we are not shown any change in his character after he loses to Tintin.
My other complaint is a relatively small one, but it did begin to bother a little bit as the film wore on. There is a certain transition effect that Spielberg uses, at first innovatively, but then repetitively. At one point in the film, we are looking at a lifeboat on a calm sea, and then, objects start to form in the sea around the lifeboat until the sea becomes a puddle on a street that someone steps in. At another point, Tintin and Captain Haddock shake hands and the bumps on their hands formed by the protrusion of the bones on their knuckles become sand dunes in the desert. Spielberg uses this type of transition several times in the film, and at first it appears to be rather creative. However, it feels a bit overused by the end of a film. It felt slightly like the first time I learned how to make presentations on Microsoft Powerpoint, and became extravagant with the way in which I used the animation functions. At first it's fun, but later it becomes a little annoying to watch.
So the bottom line is that this film is good, not great. I'm sure it met expectations that Tintin fans had, but it really doesn't go above and beyond that. In the end, I would say that this movie is worth watching once.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Simply the Best!
I have had the privilege of watching some of the greatest films ever made. However, of all of those films, none have been quite able to match the simply magnificent splendor of "Lawrence of Arabia". I strongly believe that this is the greatest film ever made. I'll begin with the dialog. Every conversation and line of dialog in this film is so precisely crafted and so memorable. The film begins by showing how the title character, Thomas Edward Lawrence dies. At his funeral, a reporter is walking around talking to various characters that will later be shown to be of significance in the story. Two of these characters are British Generals Murray and Allenby. Both of them claim to have not known him well. This scene perfectly sets the stage for the story. A story about a man who was mysterious, strange and seldom understood by those around him, particularly his peers in the British Army. The director, Sir David Lean, also does an excellent job in casting each and every one of the characters, especially the main character, T.E. Lawrence himself. Peter O'Toole's portrayal of Lawrence is absolutely spectacular, as he is able to make it such that Lawrence's behavior and actions are uniquely in tune with his circumstances, while still transcending all of it. If I were to go into how amazing the casting of the other characters is as well, this review would go well beyond the IMDb word limit. One of the most striking elements of this film is the cinematography. Not many films are this successful at immersing the audience into the environment of the story. The spectacular views of the desert in this film make the viewer feel as though they are going through this adventure with Lawrence, and make the entire experience feel so much more real. I could go on, but I feel that a review about this films many strengths would take far too long.