Movie Review: Lincoln [2012]

Lincoln [2012]

Lincoln [2012]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)
Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones and John Hawkes
Running Time: 150 minutes

Steven Spielberg is back, folks.

After a decade full of less-than-impressive efforts, Spielberg’s Lincoln delivers the goods. It doesn’t hurt to have one of the most stellar casts in recent memory, but there’s still quite a bit of substance in this historical biopic.

Lincoln [2012]

Rather than serve as a biography of Abraham Lincoln’s entire life, the film focuses on the President’s push to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, an act which would formally abolish slavery in the entire country. Naturally, with a nation already divided due to the Civil War, passing this amendment is no easy feat. The Democrats are almost entirely against the idea of abolishing slavery, and the prospects of getting the 20 extra votes needed are dire. Yet Lincoln is a stubborn, but passionate, man who will not give up until his mission is complete, even against the wishes of his advisors.

This is such a critical moment in our nation’s history, and it’s remarkable to see this played out on screen. A tremendous amount of detail went into recreating this time period, with extra emphasis on the faithfully reconstructed costume design. The casting is also near perfection. Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, has been on the receiving end of constant praise for his portrayal of Lincoln, and he deserves every accolade thrown his way. Soft-spoken, intelligent and charismatic, Day-Lewis embodies the 16th President in a way that makes it incredibly clear why he was so beloved. In a career loaded with memorable performances, this may very well be his best, and it would be shocking if he didn’t win the Oscar.

Lincoln [2012]

The rest of the cast is stacked, to put it mildly. Just take a look at some of the names involved: Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earl Haley, Tim Blake Nelson, Lee Pace, Jared Harris. This is basically character actor heaven. Field and Jones have both earned Oscar nods for their performances as Mary Todd Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens, respectively, and rightfully so. The trio of Hawkes, Spader and Nelson are especially entertaining as a group of chief negotiators who will go to any means necessary to sway/bribe the Democratic voters.

Lincoln isn’t a perfect film — Spielberg still has a habit of spelling things out for us (i.e. Mary Todd and others writing down notes such as “8 votes to win” just in case we didn’t know) — but it is a wholly engrossing one. With a heavy reliance on dialogue, the acting needs to be top-notch, and in this regard the film does not disappoint at all. Lincoln will likely clean up at the Oscars this year, and for once I will have little to complain about.

9/10

Movie Review: Looper [2012]

Looper [2012]

Looper [2012]
Director: Rian Johnson
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels
Runtime: 118 minutes

After 2005’s criminally overlooked Brick, it’s great to see director/writer Rian Johnson and lead star Joseph Gordon-Levitt collaborating once again. This time around, with a clever time travel sci-fi premise and a bigger budget, the results are even more impressive.

Looper takes place primarily in the not-so-distant year of 2044, with the focus being on a group of assassins known as “loopers.” Their job is to wait in a cornfield for their victims to be sent back to them from the future (2074), blindfolded, where the loopers promptly shoot them and collect their rewards. It’s a relatively easy job, but their one rule is to never let anyone escape, even if that means their future selves.

Looper [2012]

That’s exactly what happens to Joe Simmons (Gordon-Levitt). When presented with the prospect of killing his future self (played by Bruce Willis), Simmons hesitates, and as a result his target gets away. Now on the run from the mafia, Joe has to hunt down himself in order to complete his job. The plot gets a bit convoluted from there, adding in some romance with a single mother, Sara (Emily Blunt), and a mission to kill the future Rainmaker, a crime lord who is wiping out the loopers one-by-one. There’s a lot to digest, especially since time travel is involved.

Multiple viewings are definitely going to be helpful in analyzing and understanding Looper‘s multiple layers, but this is still a film that can be appreciated on its surface. For one, time travel is just one aspect of the film, and it is not the primary focus. This is more about the struggles of a particular character (Joe), in which time travel just so happens to have caused the conflict. Now, there are potential discrepancies with the time travel logic in the film (as expected with this subject matter), but for the most part, it works.

Looper [2012]

When I heard that Gordon-Levitt and Willis would be playing the same character, I had to do a double-take. The two really look nothing alike in reality, but thanks to the wonders of Hollywood makeup, the resemblance between the two in Looper is uncanny. Both stars deliver strong performances to boot, with the centerpiece of the film being an especially entertaining diner conversation between the two. Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels also excel in their supporting roles, each integral to the film’s development.

In the end, Looper is a rather intelligent film that is both fresh and entertaining. There is a lot to take in, but it’s a fun ride, and it makes for one of this year’s more enjoyable experiences.

8/10

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]
Directors: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman
Runtime: 164 minutes

Note: I tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but you may want to tread lightly in the comments/feedback.

Eight years is a long time. After the wanton chaos and destruction in 2008’s The Dark Knight, it’s hard to imagine Gotham City remaining in a peaceful state for eight long years, especially without their legendary protector, Batman.

The man behind their hero, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), has also gone missing during this time. Now a recluse with a bum leg, Wayne spends his days locked inside Wayne Manor. It’s not until a run-in with master jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) that Bruce musters up the will to do anything meaningful. Quickly he learns about the recent appearance of a monstrous villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), who is on a mission to destroy Gotham. Despite warnings from his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Wayne once again suits up as Batman to save his beloved city.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

That is a summary of the plot in its most basic form, but at a sprawling 165 minutes, there is a lot to digest. Bane’s planned destruction of Gotham is at the forefront, but a number of minor characters are introduced into the chaos, all of whom are tied into this in a variety of ways. Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt has an especially crucial role as rookie police officer John Blake, a clever lad who acts as a bit of an understudy to Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) while also discovering Batman’s identity on his own. Two other newcomers play important parts in this ever-encompassing saga: Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, who has a very complex relationship with Batman/Wayne, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a philanthropist investor with an interest in Wayne Industries.

All of these characters, and many old favorites, are seamlessly interweaved together to create a grand feature that can holds its own against the rest of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. A strong case could be made for any of the three to be the “best” of the bunch, and right now I would put this a close second to The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012] -- BANE

A big reason why this film succeeds is because of its main villain. Every good superhero movie needs a badass adversary, and Bane is one of the best yet. Menacing and physically dominating, Bane is frightening nearly every time he is on screen. As I witnessed the destruction of Gotham City first hand, I was wondering just how the hell Batman and/or the city would make it out in one piece. Bane is as intimidating as I have seen any villain in recent years, and his bizarre face mask only adds to his daunting persona. There were a few moments where his mask would make it hard to understand his dialogue, and his audio did seem unnecessarily louder than others, but these are mere nitpicks. The dude is impressive, and he is a more than worthy rival to our legendary hero.

For a film pushing three hours in length, there really isn’t a lot of “fat” here. Everything happens for a reason, and most plot devices are explained in depth for newcomers (or those who need a quick refresher). There are definitely moments in which a certain amount of suspension of disbelief will be required, including the much-discussed ending, but that is to be expected in a fictional universe like this. Taken on its merits, The Dark Knight Rises works exactly as it should.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

Is this a perfect film? No, not exactly. The weird audio problems with Bane are a little too noticeable, and I found occasional bits of dialogue from others that irked me the wrong way. There is one cop early in the movie, a very minor character, who has maybe three lines of dialogue total. Even though he was incredibly minute in the big picture, I winced every time he was on screen. Each line was forced and unnecessary, and it felt strangely out of place while in the middle of an epic car chase. Again, I am really nitpicking here, but that stuck with me for some reason.

Regardless, tiny complaints aside, I couldn’t ask for a better conclusion than The Dark Knight Rises. The story, the cast, the characters, Han Zimmer’s score. All top quality. This is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, and I would be hard pressed to find a better summer blockbuster this year.

9/10

Movie Review: 50/50 [2011]

50/50 [2011]

50/50 [2011]
Director: Jonathan Levine
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Cancer sucks. There’s no denying this. It’s especially devastating when the disease strikes a young person, someone who hasn’t even come close to living a full, healthy life.

This is the story of 50/50; the title, naturally, meaning the odds of beating this form of cancer.

Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27-year-old healthy male, the type of guy who doesn’t drink or smoke, and one who regularly jogs throughout his hometown of Seattle. He works at the National Public Radio, has a long-time girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), and a devoted best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen). By all accounts, he is a normal dude who is enjoying life.

Lately he has been having lower back pain. It’s a minor hindrance at first, but the pain never goes away and starts to get worse. He goes to the doctor and hears one of the scariest words in the English language: CANCER. As in, he has a rare form of spinal cancer that has a 50/50 survival rate. Commence shock.

50/50 [2011]

Adam’s only real option is to undergo chemotherapy in an attempt to reduce the tumor. He also sees a psychologist, the very inexperienced Katie McCay (Anna Kendrick), who goes through the protocol on how to help cancer patients. In a nutshell, his world has spun upside down.

As he tells his friends and family, they all react differently. Adam’s mother (Angelica Huston) naturally panics and wants to move in with her son, but she already has her hands full with her husband (Serge Houde), who has Alzheimer’s disease. Adam’s girlfriend, Rachael, has a hard time coping with the illness and does not act in the most appropriate manner. His buddy Kyle is sympathetic, but frequently pushes him to use cancer as a way of getting laid.

It’s obviously a difficult situation for all involved. 50/50 chronicles all of this, showing equally the plights, feelings and emotions from Adam, as well as everyone in his life. This is a battle for all of them.

With such a dark subject matter, 50/50 could easily be nothing more than depressing. While the film certainly has a bleak feel to it, there are plenty of well-timed moments of humor to break up the sadness. This is largely thanks to Seth Rogen, who is much-welcomed comic relief, even though his character often acts like a complete knucklehead.

50/50 [2011]

While Rogen helps with the laughs, Joseph Gordon-Levitt absolutely shines in the lead role. This guy sure has come a long way since his 3rd Rock from the Sun days, hasn’t he? His portrayal of Adam is amazing, as he flawlessly shows us the entire gamut of emotions that are natural to the cancer process. Shock, anger, sadness, acceptance. Hell, he even shaved his head on camera for the role. Yeah, he was great in Inception and (500) Days of Summer, but I think this is going to be his coming out party.

I would be remiss not to mention the performances from Philip Baker Hall (Bookman!) and Matt Frewer, two fellow cancer patients that Adam meets during chemotherapy. Hall, in particular, is a favorite of mine, and it was great to see him in this small, but important, role.

Movies like 50/50 are a rare breed. This is a film that will tug on your heartstrings just as often as make you laugh. I am not the kind of guy who cries during movies, but I was holding back major tears during this. Everything felt so REAL, and it’s absolutely tragic that people have to go through something like cancer. 50/50 is one of the best movies to come out so far this year. See it if you haven’t already.

9/10