Lincoln (2012)

lincoln-poster_743x1100Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Expectations: Low. I expect it to be boring.

Personally:
twostar

Technically:
threestar


Contrary to what the title suggests, Lincoln isn’t a biopic. It’s the story of how Lincoln the politician, despite all the odds stacked against him, managed to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States. And that’s pretty much it. If you’re not into political maneuvering, specifically 150-year-old political maneuvering, do not watch this movie. It won’t do anything for you, because it’s not for you. This one’s strictly for the history buffs, the people who gleefully dig into historical texts and huge scholarly examinations of centuries-old presidential tenures. For them, I’m sure this is easily one of the best films of 2012. But for me, it was a slow, lengthy movie that had a climax without any excitement as the outcome is already well-known by any self-respecting American. Is there really anyone out there that white-knuckled it through the vote counting scene, as the filmmaking would suggest you’re supposed to do? I highly doubt it. Maybe kids, but I can’t imagine kids would even make it that far.

My favorite scene was the film’s first, an incredibly brutal, muddy Civil War battle. I know that’s cliché for the action movie lover to say, but it’s not an action scene. It’s impeccably well-filmed, and its careful use of slow motion brings the brutality of this long-dead, close quarters style of war to life; I felt transported back in time. The following scene shows Lincoln conversing with a couple of black soldiers after the battle, and here the illusion shatters. Two white soldiers walk up, and I swear on everything that is good in this world my first thought was, “I wonder where Bill & Ted here left their phone booth.” Then my girlfriend basically said the same thing, without any prompting or suggestions from me. These guys were awful, just awful, and in the shots of Lincoln talking to these guys you can also clearly see the rain shooting in opposite arcs from the sprinklers perched above the camera’s line of sight. These are small components of a short scene in a long movie, but they were merely the beginning of my issues with the film.

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Looper (2012)

looperposter462012Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Xu Qing, Tracie Thoms

Directed by Rian Johnson

Expectations: Extremely high (but I should say that those expectations come completely from others’ reactions. I never saw a trailer or anything.)

twostar


Looper has a lot of great ideas, but they’re crushed under the weight of the film’s negative aspects. I had fun with it, no doubt, but by the last 20 minutes of the film I was literally clawing at my chair, frantically wishing the film would end. I do respect the way it ultimately ended, although I could’ve done without the minute or so of strained slo-mo that was supposed to really drive the emotional impact home. Ugh. But I’m getting ahead of myself by already talking about the ending. Hold on… let me go back in time.

[All systems go in 3… 2… 1…] [We have time travel ignition.]

My expectations for Looper were absolutely through the roof. This is always a bad way to see a movie, especially one from a director I’m not on the fanboy train for. Rian Johnson has only made three features, but around the Internet his début film, Brick, is seemingly only talked about in hushed, hallowed tones. Since I saw it before I started this website, and I don’t plan on watching it again, let me just say that I hated Brick. Neo-noir, schmeo-noir. Sorry, Brick fans. And that’s very close to how I feel about Looper, except that I kind of liked this one when I wasn’t completely frustrated with it.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Starring Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine, Alon Aboutboul, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: High. I expect it to be the worst of the three, but I’m pumped.


[Editor’s note: I’m gonna try to stay spoiler-free, but if want to see it unspoiled you really should just get out there and see it! The comments below I can’t vouch for at this point, but I’m guessing they’ll be spoiler-filled.]

Having just watched all three of Nolan’s Batman films in the space of a few days, I can say one thing definitively: this is an excellent superhero trilogy. Each film has its share of flaws, and I’m of the mind that each subsequent film is worse than the last, but each one is made with supreme skill and care, delivering some of the best films based on comic books we are ever likely to see. It’s a stroke of genius not to adapt any specific Batman story from the comics, instead combining multiple storylines into one cohesive narrative that blends together into a cohesive trilogy. While The Dark Knight feels removed from Batman Begins, like another story about Batman as opposed to a direct sequel, The Dark Knight Rises is a direct sequel to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and it’s an absolute joy to watch.

I’m going to forgo my traditional second paragraph plot synopsis because I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. I went into the film only having seen the first trailer once, and even then I felt like I had seen too much. As it turns out I hadn’t, as the film is nearly three hours long and the trailer seemed to focus on the one scene that I really didn’t care for. It’s set in a football stadium, and while the scene itself is well constructed, I hate the CG FX employed to achieve the big “WOW!” moment. Nolan is, and hopefully always will be, focused on mostly practical FX, and this one moment sticks out among the rest of the realistic explosions and car chases. My fear from seeing this in the trailer was that Bane would bring the pain, not only to Batman and Gotham City in the form of massive destruction, but to me in the form of ugly, painfully obvious CG. Thankfully, everything else was splendidly done, and even this one moment isn’t horrible, but it does look a bit too ridiculous to blend in with the rest of what’s going on visually.

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Quick Takes: Hall Pass, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Hesher

Hall Pass (2011)

Starring Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Merchant
Directed by Peter & Bobby Farrelly

I wanted a hall pass from Hall Pass so I could cut class and watch a better movie. A comedy should be funny, and for the most part, the jokes in Hall Pass are too easy, too stupid, or just not there. There’s a great moment when Owen Wilson and Jason Sudiekis talk about their friend’s family painting of themselves as sea captains, but not much else worth remembering. Not to mention the fucking commercial for Applebee’s in the middle of the movie. Ugh.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

Starring Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers
Directed by Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg

Enjoyment dependent on your tolerance for Joan Rivers, this film is quite enlightening to her career and her dedication to her craft. I’m a huge comedy nerd so I enjoyed seeing the old footage when she skirted censorship with clever wordplay, and the new footage when she just lets it all out. I’ve never been much of a fan, but after this film, I respect and enjoy her work more than ever. The film drags a bit overall, but it’s much better than I expected it to be.

Hesher (2011)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, Natalie Portman, Brendan Hill, John Carroll Lynch
Directed by Spencer Susser

The trailer made me think this was all about a hesher and the crazy shit he does, scored with kick-ass thrash metal of the 80s. It’s not. It’s actually a dreary, indie drama about a kid and his family dealing with some serious loss while the mysterious hesher moves into their house uninvited. It’s mostly an OK movie, but it’s heavy-handed and it gets really awful in spots. The end monologue by Hesher about losing one of his nuts is painful, but possibly deep if you’ve just knocked back a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall can like Hesher.

Inception (2010)

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Tom Berenger, Dileep Rao

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: Extremely high. Through the roof even.


I’ve been a big Christopher Nolan fan since the release of Memento several years ago. I patiently wait for each of his films and relish the moment when a new one is unleashed on the unsuspecting masses. Nolan is one of the best working directors right now and with Inception he proves that even without Batman, his films can be successful within the mainstream culture. He is the new superstar director for our age with a firm, virtually unmatched grasp on filmmaking and storytelling. He’s at the top of his game in Inception, skillfully making over two-and-a-half hours fly by at a good pace as I sat on the edge of my seat for most of the film.

I went into Inception only knowing a few minor details about it. I had seen the first trailer released months ago once and then completely avoided everything after. This really works to the film’s advantage as I had almost no idea what was coming next. If you can, see the film as uninformed as possible. As much as I enjoy having readers, I advise you stop reading now if you haven’t seen the film. I’m not going to lay out the plot or anything but I do plan on mentioning a few aspects that would be better off experienced without prior knowledge. You’ve been warned!

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(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloë Moretz, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Rachel Boston, Minka Kelly, Maile Flanagan, Patricia Belcher, Richard McGonagle

Directed by Marc Webb

Expectations: Extremely low.


This movie was better than I expected. It wasn’t great, but it had its moments. It’s one of those movies that people like to call “a cute little movie.” It tells the story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card writer, who believes that one day he will meet his soul mate. Enter Summer (Zooey Deschanel). But as the opening narration states, this isn’t a love story. It’s also not really a comedy. It’s more of a drama than the ad campaigns would have you believe.

The films unravels in a non-linear way, which I almost always feel is a clever device used to make a boring story more palatable. In this case it mostly works, but at only 97 minutes, it still feels really long. That is not to say that it’s uninteresting, just that some of the scenes could have been more engaging. The film is also an incredibly mainstream looking movie for an independent film. Tons of over-the-shoulder dialogue shots and close-ups. It’s not without innovation though. There are a few great ideas in the movie that are executed with perfection. Spoiling them would be just rotten of me, so I’ll just say that one of them involves the main character looking into a mirrored surface and seeing a very clever reflection. There’s also a fantastic split-screen scene involving expectations. I’ll leave it at that.

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