Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sam Mendes' "Skyfall"

(PG-13) ★★★★

What has happened to James Bond !!?? Should we start calling him James Bourne??? The change that has happened with this franchise since Daniel Craig entered the fold with Casino Royale back in 2006 is actually a very good thing  BUT purists, you know those people that are nostalgic and never want change in anything, are pissed off. I've heard everything that needs to be heard about Skyfall -the 24th and newest entry of the series- from it's the best Bond yet to it's a total disgrace. Know what was a total disgrace? Those Pierce Brosnan Bonds. Talk about miscasting. The only good one Brosnan ever made was Golden Eye. With Skyfall we are entering a new era of Bond. That's a good thing. In the film --directed by the great Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road To Perdition) -- our boy James is a drunk, has to deal with the first gay Bond Villain in Franchise history, gets shot and presumably killed, hates on British Intelligence, has NO Bond girl by his side, has a key character of the franchise die in his arms and re-visits his terrible childhood.

That's actually one thing I never thought the Bond movies would do; Go back to his past and reveal his haunted memories as an orphan. So it happens, Bond is one tortured soul. A man with flaws and more than enough glitches to offend the most innocent of fans. Now you see why this bond might not be suitable for everyone? It takes risks and most of these risks pay off big time. Once upon a time I used to think that they should have chosen Clive Owen for the role but after Casino Royale --let us forget the misbegotten Quantum Of Solace-- and Skyfall, the choice of Craig seems to be a real no brainer. Bond is as human a character as he's ever been before, thanks in large part to Craig's acting chops which reveal an extra layer of humanity to Bond. This is an actor that has invested his talent on making the role his own and he sure has done that. Almost everything works in Skyfall. From the trippy, visionary opening credits to the the new theme song sung by the ever-so talented Adele.

Of course, with all this in depth talk of what is essentially a popcorn picture one must say that the action is relentlessly thrilling. There are around 4 action set pieces here that will take your breath away and the villain -played by the ever so great Javier Bardem- is excellently evil. Bardem seems to revel in playing these fucked-up villains with bad haircuts, whatever gets him turned on I guess -- but mad props to him for another great performance. In fact I'm gonna stop right there because the film is too good to reveal in its entirety but to say that everything you thought you knew about the franchise is thrown out of the window with this one. Mendes, working with a tightly woven script, does visual miracles here. Smart move hiring the great Roger Deakins as his cinematographer. It wouldn't be out of place to call this the best looking Bond film I have ever seen.  At 143 minutes the film rarely drags even with a few minor bumps here and there + an overtly dragged on/predictable finale. It is then no surprise that reading all the rave reviews of late, many people have claimed this a renewal of the franchise. For the purists out there it will take some getting used to, because this Bond is here to stay.

Spielberg's "Lincoln"

(PG-13) ★★★★

At first it isn't easy to succumb to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln - its darkly lit, talkative scenes aren't what we are used to getting in a Spielberg movie. The political talk is in every frame, this is a move that is more about dialogue than it is about action. A real shock given that this is a filmmaker known for popcorn entertainments raised to the level of art (Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, War Of The Worlds). Lincoln is no such beast. It is quietly meditative with no rousing bombast or grand set pieces. The screenplay written by Tony Kushner brings us to 1865 a few weeks before the vote for a 13th amendment - this one would abolish slavery and free African American slaves. President Lincoln tries his damnest to convince Democratic delegates to vote for the amendment. It doesn't help that he is in the middle of a bloody civil war that has taken the lives of close to 600,000 Americans. We only see a glimpse of this war at film's opening, Spielberg is more interested in the war of words than in war itself. If you think this is a biopic of the President think again, this is a film about how the famous 13th amendment got passed.

Abraham Lincoln is slyly played by Daniel Day Lewis in another performance that will be remembered for the ages. His Lincoln is a man of many flaws but with enough heart, soul and drive to push the amendment forward. It has almost come to be a predictable thing to have a great Daniel Day Lewis performance but it is always highly welcome. Day-Lewis uses gestures and physical traits that are astonishing for his performance, the intensity that rages in his eyes is that of a man that is not playing Lincoln but IS Abraham Lincoln. He will surely be eyeing a third Best Actor Oscar come early next year. The film is full of great performances; James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson play lobbysists aiding the president in  trying to turn democrats to their sides, Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Thaddeus Stevens is phenomenal and will likely be an Oscar contender as well. Stevens fought his entire life for an 13th amendment to happen and the sheer look on his eyes when it happens is triumphant stuff. Jones nails the role and brings about verbal fireworks to his juicy role that are too good to reveal - plus wait until you see his one BIG scene that takes place in the senate.

Verbal Fireworks. That is essentially the come-on for Spielberg's Lincoln. Don't expect visual stimulation in this picture, it is all about words and tactics uttered by these famous politicians. Some scenes might be a bit draggy but Spielberg tells the story in such an un-Spielberg kind of way. With an abundance of restraint and silence. Who'd a thunk it possible for the Hollywood director to have this kind of film in him. The first time I saw Lincoln I was taken aback, expecting something else and ultimately leaving the theatre a bit puzzled. The second time I saw the film -knowing exactly what to expect- I was wooed by the great cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's camerawork and by how the film simply told the story in such an intimate and un-bombastic way. That is essentially Lincoln, a quiet beast of a film that is never too showy and never too self-aware of its grandiose story. An important, interesting one in fact, that everyone should know about.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

(M) For Masterpiece

List will continually get updated over the next while ...

Sunrise (1927)
The General (1927)
The Rules of the Game (1939)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
The Searchers (1956)
Vertigo (1958)
12 Angry Men (1957)
Touch of Evil (1958)
Rear Window (1954)
Breathless (1959)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
8½ (1963)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Lolita (1962)
Persona (1960)
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The Conversation (1974)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Chinatown (1974)
Mean Streets (1973)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Taxi Driver (1976)
The Conformist (1970)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Do The Right Thing (1989)
The Fly (1986)
Platoon (1986)
Brazil (1985)
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Raging Bull (1980)
Back to the Future (1985)
Blow Out (1981)
The Elephant Man (1980)
Schindler's List (1993)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Unforgiven (1992)
Fargo (1996)
Breaking the Waves (1996)
The Truman Show (1998)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Goodfellas (1990)
The Player (1992)
Mulholland Drive (2001)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Y Tu Mamá También (2002)
Caché (2005)
Memento (2001)
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
A History of Violence (2005)
Children of Men (2006)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Black Swan (2010)
The Tree of Life (2011)

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