Thursday, January 24, 2013

HAT'S ENTERTAINMENT
Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is a film that has been eagerly awaited for years. At one point, it seemed in jeopardy that it would ever get made but it's out at last. This biopic, which focuses on the 16th president's attempt to get the abolition of slavery passed into law while resolving the bitter Civil War, shows off some of the director's most assured and thoughtful work. Rather than take the usual route of cramming in the entire life of President Lincoln into one film, Spielberg decides to focus on this very pivotal part of US history and it pays off well. He handles the various machinations that Lincoln and the rest of his party have to go through to get the bill passed with rare skill and deftness. Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant in the title role, with an unusually measured and human performance and deserves the various gongs he has already received. He inhabits the part in a way that you can't really imagine anyone else doing. If he doesn't win an Oscar, I'll eat my stovepipe hat. But it would be remiss of me to neglect to mention the rest of the cast. Tommy Lee Jones as the wonderfully named Senator Thaddeus Stevens, fellow abolitionist, and Jared Harris as Yankee general and future US President Ulysses Grant, are just two of the standout members of the cast. Lee Jones is suitably irascible and Harris shows why he is becoming one of the most interesting character actors of modern TV and film. Lincoln has a running time of two and a half hours and at no point does it drag or outstay its welcome. It's not perfect by any means: it may have been a more dramatic conclusion if it had ended when the bill becomes law rather than showing us the death of Lincoln and sometimes you wonder if Lincoln really did speak in aphorisms like he chooses to sometimes here. But these are minor quibbles: Spielberg and production designer Rick Carter have created a painterly 1860s America, beautiful on screen. But the beauty is tempered by real human tragedy like the casualties of the Civil War, an event which drove a poisonous spike through the heart of America. It is impressive that, despite the fact that Steven Spielberg has making films for five decades now, he is still able to impress with something as weighty, as light-fingered and as erudite as Lincoln. Lincoln is a bold and well-made look at one of the most important figures and periods in American history…

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Monday, March 14, 2011


LOWERING STANDARDS
I went to see The Eagle, a film based on Rosemary Sutclif's novel written in the 1950s about the Roman legion who lost their standard and were routed by Picts in Scotland. The story is the same one that was depicted in Neil Marshall's Centurion but here we have a slightly larger budget, Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching The Void) and American beefcake Channing Tatum. The big problem with The Eagle (which was originally called The Eagle of The Ninth but the makers thought that the simpler name would make it more appealing) is that it is filled with inconsistencies and historical mistakes. Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, a centurion determined to regain the honour of the lost legion by retrieving his father's legion's golden eagle emblem and restore his reputation. He is assisted by his slave Esca (Jamie Bell) and so they make their way over Hadrian's Wall. They are captured by the Picts and Aquila's status is reversed, making him the slave. The Picts look more like Native Americans, carrying tomahawks, and Guern (Mark Strong), one of Aquila's father's legionaries, has an American accent for no apparent reason. Presumably the producers thought that, if they shoved Americans and American-sounding actors into The Eagle, it would play better in the States but it detracts from the story. The script isn't up to much, Tatum is lumpen and rather wooden but, to be fair, Bell is pretty good. Centurion made for a much better film for a fraction of the cost and came across as far more credible. The Eagle is just about worth watching on DVD but it really does feel like a wasted opportunity…

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Monday, March 29, 2010





THREE FOR TUESDAY

The last couple of weeks have been pretty frenetic. Unfortunately the year-long contract of work I thought I had has ended prematurely now so I'm left having to go back to hustle for freelance work. I have seen three very different films at screenings, all at Paramount's screening room at their London office at Golden Square, so I thought I'd review them in this latest entry. The first film I caught was Centurion, directed by Neil Marshall, a low-budget British film that shows a Roman legion fighting for their lives against a group of Picts in Scotland in the second century AD. Centurion as a film is a bit of a throwback to the sort of movies we used to make over here in the Seventies: it's shot in a gritty and very violent fashion. But I'm not criticising it for that: Marshall really uses the English and Scottish settings in a beautiful but rugged way and the action barrels along in an appealing fashion. Michael Fassbender, from the awful Inglorious Basterds, plays Quintus Dias, the Roman soldier who takes up with General Virilus (Dominic West from The Wire) and his Ninth Legion to try to crush the Picts only to find that they have them outnumbered in territory that they know like the back of their hand. West is good value on screen as is David Morrissey and Fassbender makes a good fist of it here too. Whilst its historical accuracy is questionable, Centurion is an enjoyable action yarn with a solid cast and interesting direction...

How To Train Your Dragon is a 3-D animated film from Dreamworks about a teenage viking, Hiccup, in a fictional village who is no good at traditional viking arts like fighting and pillaging who becomes friendly with an injured dragon, which is when his luck begins to change. With the voice talents of Craig Ferguson and the ubiquitous Gerard Butler, this is a very likeable kids film that uses the 3-D to its full effect with some magnificent visual set-pieces. Admittedly the plot, that the dragons attacking the vikings are just misunderstood, is rather predictable but Butler and Ferguson are good choices for the voices and there are some nice touches like the slightly Japanese look of the dragon that Hiccup befriends. Most importantly, How To Train Your Dragon doesn't outstay its welcome and holds the viewer's attention during its running time. It's the perfect Easter holiday treat for children...
Finally, Agora is the new film by director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others, The Sea Inside). It's a visually lavish affair about female philosophy professor Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) who finds herself caught in the middle of a turbulent period in Alexandria, Egypt during the fourth century AD while it was a Roman protectorate. Unfortunately, while it looks fantastic, capturing the feel of an ancient city effortlessly, Agora is let down by wooden acting (Weisz is particularly guilty of this here), a poor script and a plot that really doesn't amount to anything in the end. The points it attempts to make about the friction between the Christians, Jews and the Pagans in the city are serious but they are so mishandled dramatically that it all feels like a BBC2 drama with all the money thrown at the production side. It's a film that's been hanging around for a while and, when you watch it, you can see why it's been hard for it to find a slot. As a period film, Centurion works better than Agora because it does what it set out to do. File under curio...

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