This week’s reviews basically boils down to a battle between good and evil, an attempt at cinematic art going against the last gasp of a billion dollar grossing series of crap. Yes, Steven Spielberg brings us Lincoln while Lucifer presents us with the finale of the Twilight saga. Who will emerge victorious?
Spielberg has been talking about doing a film based on the life of Abraham Lincoln since before the release of Jaws, it seems like. Originally planned as a starring vehicle for a post-Taken Liam Neeson, once a timetable was finally set Neeson was no longer available and Daniel Day Lewis signed up.
While a much better actor, Lewis’ name at the top of the poster makes a bio-drama much less of a sure thing when it comes to box office receipts.
For serious film fans, the news of Lewis signing on makes Lincoln a must see, which is good news for Spielberg; after years of people joking about how schmaltzy his films can get, War Horse may have finally been the straw that broke the camel’s back for many audience members. Once you seemingly staff all of your films with a precocious tyke, a daddy issue of some sort, and John Williams hamming it up on the score, you have to send notice to cinephiles that is safe to drop 2-2/12 hours of their life on your newest extravaganza.
Lincoln opens with the president meeting with Union soldiers on the field of a battle to take place. He is first approached by two white soldiers who, while uniformed men in their twenties, give off the vibe of giggling schoolgirls. One begins to recite the Gettysburg Address to the man, before being called away. A black soldier standing nearby takes this moment to question the recent Emancipation Proclamation’s true value, when he and his men are still receiving subpar treatment when compared to soldiers of other colors. Before walking away, this soldier completes the Address in Lincoln’s presence, because this is a Spielberg movie.
The screenplay, credited to Tony Kushner (Munich, Angels in America), is adapted from the award-winning book Team of Rivals. In Rivals we were shown in detail a president who brilliantly managed a Cabinet filled with men who not only felt they were better equipped to hold Lincoln’s job, but many were from opposing political parties, which was unheard of at the time and is an ideal that is basically extinct today. As Secretary of State William Seward, David Strathairn is perhaps the epitome of this notion, as a man called on by Lincoln to do many things that he holds to be wrong, but as Lincoln’s closest confidante he knows he must do them for the sake of any possible end to slavery and the war.
Much will be made of Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln. Forgoing the traditional booming voice that has been the trademark of many impersonators, he goes for a more likely thin, high pitched tone that a man of his size would actually have. While it is a cliché now, Lewis truly disappears into the role. While his more cartoonish roles in There Will Be Blood and Gangs of New York may be what many think of when reciting their favorite roles of the man, this is Lewis’ finest work to date, a performance that 99% of actors will fail to ever get near. As a man willing to lose it all to make sure that slavery never graces America’s shores again, Lewis manages to show us the humanity in a historical figure that we have come to believe was true to his core, with no room for grey.
While Spielberg somehow manages to fill almost every speaking role with a familiar character actor, in actuality making this one of the finest casts in film history, two actors stick out for their inability to yield to the material. Tommy Lee Jones manages to provide one of the worst performances of his career in the role of Thaddeus Stevens, a firebrand congressman who takes up the cause of ending slavery once and for all time and again. Jones basically plays himself in a wig, a figure that pops up from time to time to raise his voice and rally his men. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also appears as Robert Lincoln, the oldest son who shows up seemingly for the sole reason of casting a name young actor to hopefully bring in the young folks. Even more than Jones, Levitt appears out of his depth here, appearing to believe the only thing required for the role is a fake mustache and a deeper voice.
This isn’t a slag against either party, really; it’s just a question of how do you fail casting these two prime roles when even the smallest seemed to have talent lined up?
Lincoln is being released at the perfect time. If ever there were a film tailor-made for a Thanksgiving crowd, when families must decide harmoniously on what movie they will watch together, this is a crowd-pleaser for all ages.
I want you to think of the finest meal you’ve ever eaten. I mean the one meal that on your death bed you wouldn’t request, because you know there would be no way to replicate it and you would just die disappointed, as we all do anyway. Now picture that food 80% covered in shit. 20% of the meal is guaranteed to have not been touched even the slightest by the shit, so it’s safe to eat, and it will taste just as wonderful as you could ever hope for. Do you eat it anyway?
Welcome to the world of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Bad Part Two!
Before I touch on that 20%, let’s start by discussing the areas of fecal contamination. For those that need a quick primer: In TTS:BBPO, Bella Swan (seriously, why didn’t they just name her Rapunzel?) finally decided between the two monsters that were courting her and chose Edward, the vampire who had shown in the past that he had commitment issues and would leave her for weeks at a time. This made the Oompa Loompa with abs Jacob the werewolf (oh, I’m sorry, “shape shifter”) very angry, until Ed sexed Bella to death and managed to get her pregnant, with Jake falling in love with the newborn. Two and a half hours saved; YOU’RE WELCOME!
Part Two opens with Bella walking around, all vampiry now and ready to lay it down on Ed. He points out, “Hey, you have a baby btw, wanna see?” and she responds with, “Meh.” They go hunting, where Bella attempts to grab a rock climber in a scene that wouldn’t make the cut on old episodes of The Outer Limits due to the cheesy visual effects.
But the funny doesn’t stop there! After sucking on a mountain lion, Bella finally gets around to meeting her baby. It is during this scene that Jacob breaks the news that he has fallen for someone younger. Bella rightfully freaks out, with no one taking a second to point out that this whole series is based on a 100+ year old vampire falling for jailbait.
Word slowly trickles down that an evil vampire army is going to pay a visit to our friendly vampires’ home, due to a misunderstanding that perhaps the new baby is actually a human baby turned vampire, which is shown to us to be a terrible thing to do for all involved. The Cullens’ search the world for other friendly vampires that are willing to have their back in the upcoming fight, eventually amassing a 2nd graders idea of the world’s cultures; seriously, the participants from the Amazon are one step away from caricatures found in an old Tarzan film.
Bill Condon was once a director that many thought to have a bright future. We’re talking a man that brought out a great performance in Ian McKellen and made Brendan Fraser appear a competent actor with Gods and Monsters. The sad thing isn’t so much that he sold his soul for a chance to throw in with a potential moneymaker like Twilight, it’s that it is safe to assume that he sold out cheap. Seriously, the next person to get a huge paycheck from Summit Entertainment will be the first, so why not try to latch on with the next young-adult adaptation sure to flop; at least that way you may be able to put your own personal vision into a bit of the thing.
Acting wise, you get what you would expect. Kristen Stewart appears to enjoy making out with her boyfriend, Robert Pattinson is visibly happy that he is almost finished with this sideshow, and Taylor Lautner tries to pull his shirt off on cue without visibly nodding his head and asking, “Line?” The only actor who seems to be having fun is Michael Sheen as head baddie Aro, but as with any dreck that Sheen signs on for in return for a bundle of cash, he manages to cross the line separating enthusiastic and hammy quite a few times before the end of the film.
But what about that 20% that is worth it, I hear no one ask. I will tread this subject carefully, as I honestly don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. It is safe to say that there is a battle scene, as that has been one of the main selling points to come across in ads for the film. However, somehow Condon was actually able to produce an action scene that is not only the most exciting of 2012 (beating even The Avengers in that regard), but also the most brilliantly written. From the nervous rocking going on in the chairs behind me, I knew that this scene wasn’t in the books, and by doing so the filmmakers had finally thrown something unexpected at the longtime fans of the franchise.
Honestly, if you are in a bind for time this week, I would say it’s safe to skip both of these releases. I’m not saying Lincoln isn’t worth watching; I’m merely suggesting perhaps wait until it is closer to Oscar pool time and then knock it out at the discount theater. As for Twilight…well, you already knew whether or not you were going to see that, didn’t you?