Tag Archives: 7.5/10

Lincoln (2012)

“Trust? Gentlemen, you seem to have forgotten that our chosen career is politics.”

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and David Strathairn

lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln is fighting to get the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution passed, which would formally abolish slavery in America. Worrying that the Civil War was going to end within the next month, causing the slaves freed in his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation to be re-enslaved, Lincoln fights against the clock and members of his Cabinet to get the votes he needs to pass this bill.

This biopic looks at President Abraham Lincoln’s persistent efforts throughout January 1865, and is a beautifully shot and crafted account of the ins-and-outs of the politics behind passing the Thirteenth Amendment.

Daniel Day-Lewis was brilliant as the President. He did what all actors try to do, he became his character. I didn’t ever really feel like I was watching Lewis on the screen but instead, I got so caught up in his performance it felt like it really was Lincoln up there. Everything, down to his face and mannerisms were spot on. Lewis always gives his all so it didn’t surprise me that he has done it once again here, it was a great casting choice and I couldn’t see anyone else in this role that could have portrayed Lincoln so well.

Sally Field gave a knockout performance as Mary Todd Lincoln, the woman behind the man. Her devotion for her husband is evident and Field really captures this essence. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, the Republican politician strongly in favour of the abolition of slavery, was another great to watch. Performances from David Strathairn as William Seward, the secretary of state, Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln also gave notable performances.

While some scenes with Levitt felt a bit unnecessary, and probably added minutes to the film that could have been easily cut, I think they were needed to show that there was more to Lincoln. It allowed for us to see he was more than just a politician, and certainly showed how compassionate he was as a person. I’m not saying Levitt didn’t play his part well because I think he did, just that the story he brought with him wasn’t all that necessary to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Spielberg has really caught the essence of what made Lincoln such a likeable President and the film ran so smoothly, at an even pace and with a subtle suspense, it was really enjoyable to watch. For what it was, I did think the film was a little long. It didn’t need to be 2 hours 30 minutes but it would seem Spielberg wasn’t in a rush to tell this story. It’s not always a bad thing, but audiences have a film attention span of about 2 hours these days, so he needs to be a little careful with losing them if his chosen genre isn’t ‘high-paced thriller’.

This film is a thorough look at President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery in America. As one of the most historical events in America, the film might not have done complete justice to how hard Lincoln fought for what he believed, but by jove it tried. It’s probably the best account of Lincoln’s efforts to pass this Amendment and while it was a bit long in places, seeing more of Daniel Day-Lewis on screen just about made up for it.

Star rating:   7.5/10

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Running time 150 minutes.

Les Misérables (2013)

“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living!”

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway

MV5BMTQ4NDI3NDg4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjY5OTI1OA@@._V1._SY317_Adapted from a West End show – not a usual occurrence  – Les Misérables is quite the epic.

The story follows the life of Jean Valjean, a criminal on the run after breaking parole. A cat and mouse chase ensues after Javert, a merciless policeman, vows to make him pay for his wrong doings. In addition to this, Valjean has also agreed to raise a factory worker’s child when she no longer can, making his duplicitous life even more challenging to hide. Set in 19th-century France we also see the film deal with the French Revolution, so there is quite a nice substance to the story.

Given the synopsis, Les Mis is really all about Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, who play Jean Valjean and Javert respectively. With their showdowns becoming a recurring theme throughout the film, they provide some of the best interactions. As these events are such pivotal moments too, these scenes had to be the most intriguing and captivating to watch, which they most definitely were. Right from the outset these two had established a tense relationship and that didn’t dwindle for one moment. The whole story has been spun from their differences and you feel for both characters and their own life goals. For both actors to pull this off and have the audience rooting for them is quite a feat to accomplish; while it would initially seem Valjean was the protagonist and Javert the antagonist, it becomes clear that it isn’t as black and white as that.

Two actors who I didn’t even know were in the film, but who made it that bit better, were Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. As Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, two swindling innkeepers, they bring a light, comedic relief to the film. The child actors were surprisingly good too, especially since they both played rather important parts. Isabelle Allen was in the role of a young Cosette, the factory worker’s daughter, and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, a boy who gets caught up fighting for the revolution. It was great to see such young people in the film, bringing a fresh lease of life with them.

After finding out Anna Hathaway had been nominated for so many awards (winning at the Golden Globes too), I expected a bigger part out of her. While she did play a great role and cut off all of her hair (maybe this is why she was nominated?), I don’t think it was Oscar worthy. Don’t get me wrong, as Fantine she did pull at my heartstrings and she portrayed this broken woman very well, but Oscar worthy, no.

One thing I didn’t know about Les Mis is that it is all song. I thought maybe it was a normal story interlaced with song, but it’s not, it is full on singing from start to end. At times it was tedious and drawn out, but it can be really powerful in some scenes. It’s also pretty amazing to think that the story has been completely written like this, and for it to work so well is amazing.

One of the things I felt could have been improved upon was the length. Towards the middle of the film, when Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmanye took centre stage, I felt like the film lost its umph a bit. Rather than moving at a swift pace the story seemed to slow down and I wasn’t all that interested in the love triangle these young’uns got caught up in. I think this part of the film could have been tighter to keep the audience more interested and shorten the massive 2 hours 37 minutes the film already sat at.

Les Misérables is a great West End to film adaptation. With actors such as Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway leading the cast, there was a flicker of hope even before the film was released. Thankfully the majority of them can sing – which is a huge bonus – though there were the odd few who didn’t carry the vocal strength you would expect in a musical. Nevertheless, Les Mis is a must see, both on film and the West End.

Star rating:  7.5/10

Directed by Tom Hooper.

Running time 157 minutes.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey.”

Cast:  Uma Thurman, David Carradine and Michael Madsen

Thankfully, the second instalment of Kill Bill is just as kick ass as the first.

If you haven’t seen Volume 1, Volume 2 is pretty easy to get to grips with. The Bride is on her continued streak of vengeance against her ex-boss, Bill, and his two remaining associates; his younger brother Budd, and Bill’s latest flame Elle.

While the story is pretty straight forward, I would recommend watching the first film to help clarify some specific details and to acknowledge the elaborate violence, blood and gore Tarantino adopts in these films. The visceral aspects shocked some so easing your way into the style may be advised, however Volume 2 it isn’t as amplified as Volume 1. It could even be said that Volume 2 is less gory and action packed, and rather more developed in terms of dialogue and character than Volume 1.

The same style is carried between the films, with sound and colour being the main device that has us in the palm of Tarantino’s hands. It’s amazing how much difference and added emotion can be had from changing styles of sound and colour; it’s definitely one of the things I think both Kill Bill’s should pride itself on.

While we were shown a bit about Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen’s characters in the first volume, this film is where we really see David Carradine’s character explored. With Carradine in the mix, the story is pulled in and rounded off nicely. For an old man, Bill seems like he’s doing pretty well for himself too. He fits the role of Bill really well and though a generation behind the rest of the gang, he is just as tough, if not more so, than the assassins he had working for him.

Kill Bill Volume 2 is fantastic, it delivers in terms of our needs (established in the first film) and adds to the story by focusing more so on character development. While there are less mass fight scenes, we are still treated to a few great showdowns. Teamed with Volume 1, Tarantino has got something really great in his catalogue with Kill Bill.

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Quentin Tatantino.

Running time 136 minutes.

Into Eternity (2010)

“Onkalo must last 100,000 years. Nothing built by man has lasted even a tenth of that time span.”

Cast: Carl Reinhold Bråkenhjelm, Mikael Jensen, Berit Lundqvist

Every day, masses of high-level radioactive waste is produced by nuclear power plants. Due to it’s high toxicity it’s placed in interim storage, though this isn’t the safest solution as it is vulnerable to natural disasters, man-made disasters, and societal changes.

The effects of coming into contact with radioactive waste vary. From nausea to brain damage to death, the best thing to do with the stuff is contain it until it becomes non-hazardous.

So what we have with this film is a documentary about the plan of action for the next 100,000 years, which is how long radioactive waste remains hazardous. It isn’t as easy as it looks either, finding a permanent solution to something so harmful and omnipresent is hard work.

The chosen place of solution lies within Finland, which is seeing the construction of the world’s first permanent solution to this extremely dangerous problem. Onkalo Waste Repository is currently being built underground out of solid rock. When it’s completed in 10 years, the tunnel will be used to store tons of nuclear waste and then in another 10 years, the tunnel will be sealed. Involving a huge amount of underground space, spanning 4 miles long and 1,600 feet deep, hopefully it will last 100,000 years. Though the main cause of grief is the fact that nothing manmade has ever lasted even a tenth of this time before.

The film looks at a timeline of the past and applies it to the future. From the time the first pyramids were built to the arrival of Jesus, around 2000 years passed. From Jesus to the present time, it’s been around another 2000 years. So look at the state of the pyramids, the longest lasting manmade thing ever, and now think whether they’d last to be 100,000 years old..

Into Eternity follows the construction of this site with director Michael Madsen raising questions about Onkalo to an audience in the remote future. It also touches on what society is doing now to help with this continually dangerous situation, the responsibilities of the authorities by ensuring they are compliant with the safety criteria legislation and the principle of waste control management.

One of the biggest worries about the future of Onkalo is protecting the vault from human intrusion. It’s so hard to determine the path of the future and whether we’ll even speak the same languages, look the same or act the same in 300 years. Will curiosity get the better of people, or will they be able to sense danger through images, writing and uninviting scenery. It’s too hard to tell. Another ice age is predicted in 60,000 years, will the facility even withstand the changes of weight etc. placed on it?

This film documentary is harrowing in that it really evokes these heavy questions about the future we just can’t answer. While it could have been longer or opened out to interview more people to get a better scope of this problem, Into Eternity hits the nail on the head throughout and really just stands as this great piece of material to inspire (hopefully) action on our behalf. Like what can we do about our future.

We’re producing nuclear waste continually as we rely so much on a ready supply of energy. Demands are only increasing as the standards of developing countries do too. Soon, more places like Onkalo are going to have to be built and face the same problems and difficulties as the ones presented in this film.

Like a sci-fi, horror, documentary flick rolled into one, Into Eternity is beautiful, thought provoking and terrifying all at once. Directed with true vision and a total focus on what is at stake, the stark alternative reality of this beautiful film juxtaposed with the potential downfall of mankind, Madsen has made a masterpiece that I hope lasts long enough to warn those in the future.

Star rating:  7.5/10

Directed by Michael Madsen.

Running time 75 minutes.

Precious (2008)

“Oh, so you’re going to stand up there and look down at me like you’re a woman? You don’t know what real women do. Real women sacrifice!”

Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique and Paula Patton

Based on the bestselling novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, the film Precious is nothing but an emotional, moving and raw depiction of abuse, desperation and hope.

Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an illiterate, overweight, African-American teen from Harlem. At 16 she already has one child and is pregnant with her second. Growing up in an abusive home with her mother claiming welfare benefits, Precious has been on a continuos struggle through her short life so far. When she’s moved to a different school though, an alternative path for her future is opened up to her and she gets what most people wish they could have, a chance to start over.

All of the performances in Precious were outstanding. Such a stellar cast really made for the difficult and taboo subjects of the film to be told in a brave and confident way. It really allowed for this harrowing look into inner-city life be told in a triumphant way.

Mary, a violent and heavily abusive mother to Precious was played by Mo’Nique. Although hard to watch at times, just because she was purely abusive yet ironically dependent on her daughter, Mo’Nique played Mary with a feisty attitude and a frighteningly real sense of conviction. Her efforts were acknowledged with a Golden Globe, an Academy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress. There’s no doubt she was the strongest actor with her portrayal being so spot on it was unnerving.

Precious’ new school teacher, Ms Rain (Paula Patton) is perhaps the most sympathetic character. Offering Precious an alternative route and giving her hope for her future for the first time in her life, it’s fair to say Ms Rain is the mother Precious never had. This loving person is something so bizarre and alien to Precious who believes no one loves her. Patton really does a fantastic job in this role, it’s almost as if she’s playing us in the sense that we really feel for this broken girl and root for her to get out of this terrible situation.

I didn’t think I’d be saying this but I have to take my hat off to Mariah Carey. I did not expect such a great performance from her as social worker Mrs. Weiss. This plain and unmade look is something we don’t ever see from the diva, so to see her like this, looking all vulnerable and normal, was the first thing that shocked me. However she continued to do so. Her character is almost in too deep with this situation that has been sprung on her but she really tries to help fix the mess with her no nonsense, scepticism. However, even she is emotionally brought down a notch the further into the story she delves.

Lenny Kravitz also stars in the film as Nurse John. I didn’t even realise it was him until the credits rolled. Playing a sweet nurse that Precious falls for, Kravitz’s role is small but an important part in Precious’ life, offering that bit of optimism and hope that was missing from her life before. Her new group of school mates are also a welcomed and fresh attribute to the film. Ranging from a hardened but recovering drug abuser to a rich pretty girl just trying her hand at getting a better education, the group of girls that Precious begins to associate herself with see real friendships form between them all.

Another thing I really loved about the film was Precious’ running commentary throughout. I gather this is from her journal that she was told to write for school, but it’s works as this great device allowing us to look that bit further into her life and understand the way she’s feeling. At times comical, others heartbreaking, it was a great decision that shows her personal growth and character development, something that is absolutely key to an unsparing and what seemed, hopeless situation to be burdened with.

A great adaptation from the novel, Precious is a raw look into an abusive childhood and an uncompromising situation this young girl has grown up in. Not for the faint hearted, Precious is full of grit, vigour and emotion that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Star rating:  7.5/10

Directed by Lee Daniels.

Running time 109 minutes.

Before Sunset (2004)

“Baby, you are gonna miss that plane.”

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Vernon Dobtcheff

There was a possibility that, as a sequel to Before Sunrise, the image people had formed for the future of Jesse and Celine could have been ruined. Before Sunset has been approached very well though, not as a commercialised vehicle to cash in on, but just as a natural progression with the story of these two star-crossed lovers.

The film picks up 9 years after the brief encounter that happened between Jesse and Celine. Having written a book about this one-of-a-kind meeting, Jesse is doing a book tour with his last stop being Paris. Here, as he hoped, he meets Celine once again and the two of them, grown-up with real lives now, reminisce and talk about the years that have flown by.

With a natural chemistry that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy captured in the first film, the romantic connection between Jesse and Celine is as apparent as ever. With their conversation focused on general topics like how they’ve been and what they’ve been up to, it soon turns towards the obvious and becomes fixated upon this strong and fantastic connection that always seems to spark when the two meet. Even though each has gotten on with their lives, you can’t help but root for the two to be together.

Director Linklater has this fantastic ability to really explore and develop this relationship. From the beginning, being that of the first film, he really takes time in showing just two normal people bonding and in such a natural way. Conversation is a big part, if not the main reason for the two becoming so close, so the writers must also must be given credit for this fundamental element.

Before Sunset is another fantastic piece from Linklater and follows on so well from Before Sunrise. With yet another open end that has us guessing again about the possible relationship between Jesse and Celine, the movie has one of the best last lines to close.

Star rating:  7.5/10

Directed by Richard Linklater.

Running time 80 minutes.

The Ides of March (2011)

“It doesn’t matter what you thought. It matters what you did. It matters what you didn’t do.”

Cast:  Paul Giamatti, George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman

I would be much more interested in politics if George Clooney and Ryan Gosling were actually running for office.

As the film opens Governor Mike Morris and Senator Ted Pullman, both who want to be President, are campaigning against each other to win the state of Ohio. Hoping to secure the Democratic nomination he needs for Presidential candidacy, a win in the state for Morris would see this materialise and become a reality. However a win for Pullman would see him take the lead over Morris by a majority.

While the film is all about this heated campaign between Morris and Pullman, the focus really remains upon the guys you don’t normally see. Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is Morris’ press secretary and a true advocate of Morris and his campaign, though he suddenly finds himself being caught up in a web of political scandal that could see Morris lose Ohio and ultimately the nomination he needs for President.

The Ides of March is George Clooney’s fourth time in the directors chair. Though he also stars in the film as democrat Mike Morris, his role is much more supportive to players like Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. The choice to take more of a backseat in the film has really allowed for Clooney’s talent as a director to shine through though.

Gosling plays Stephen, a young advisor on Morris’ political campaign and an aide to Paul. With his young age Morris often looks to Steve for a truthful, raw perspective on his position as a politician. His positive outlook and truly supportive attitude toward Morris, who Steve really believes could change America for the better, works to Morris’ advantage as Steve’s efforts are completely genuine. Though his charm and charisma is soon lost to greed and desire after he becomes trapped in a few uncompromising situations thanks to Tom Duffy (Giamatti), the campaign manager for Morris’ opponent, and highly seductive intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood).

Though Steve is the brains behind Morris’ campaign, Paul (Hoffman) is the campaign manager. Paul is a hotshot in the world of politics who has been behind many other successful campaigns. Though he also wants Morris to win, he often bends the truth to keep his boss happy and confident. After being in the business all his life though Paul is very aware of the levels of underhanded, dirty politics that corrupt the business and the way it can change people. For this reason he prides himself on loyalty, which he believes is the strongest component of a team and without, everything amounts to nothing.

While the phrase ‘The Ides of March’ is often related to Julius Ceasar being stabbed in the back by his own people, this film is much more than just double crossing your own team. It’s about morals, loyalty and quite simply, human nature. Whether if the opportunity presented itself, you’d do the right thing in a tough situation or turn a blind eye in order to personally gain from the situation. For this reason, the theme of the film could have been applied to any setting, not just a political one. But as you’ll see, it fits so well.

Though this political drama is captivating and tense, when the film finishes the plot is actually like most political campaigns, being that it’s rather simple and doesn’t amount to much. As with most films that are rife with political scandal, the storyline is fair and the twists are expected, so from that perspective it’s not too shocking or groundbreaking. Maybe this says more in the way of human nature and its sad predictability, than the lack of new and innovative turns in the genre.

However, with the stylistic direction and strong, compelling performances, The Ides of March really is a brilliant film that Clooney should be very proud of.

Star rating: 7.5/10

Directed by George Clooney.

Running time 98 minutes.