Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”)
Written by: Tony Kushner (“Munich”)
Even more than a historic drama about the 13th Amendment, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is an actor’s showcase. History buffs aside, mainstream audiences will be hard-pressed to remember all the intricacies it took to get the U.S. Senate to abolish slavery in 1864, but what will be impossible for them to forget is the incredible work by the entire ensemble cast. From two-time Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”) to each minor character that walks the halls of Congress, everyone is at top form.
“Lincoln” is easily Spielberg’s most restrained film since 1997’s “Amistad,” a court-room drama about a man who led an 1839 mutiny on a slave ship. Unlike “Amistad,” however, “Lincoln” doesn’t allow for much emotion to come from the stories of the slaves themselves. This isn’t a narrative about slavery as much as it is about the details behind the controversial amendment that would change the face of America forever. “Lincoln” is congressional theater at its finest.
Leading the cast in this tremendous collection of actors is Day-Lewis. As 16th President of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln, Day-Lewis, who is a spitting image of Honest Abe, commands the screen with his soft-spoken albeit passionate rendition. Look for him to grab the fifth Oscar nomination of his career for channeling such an iconic personality.
It is the final month of his presidency and Lincoln is determined to end the Civil War by finding the support he needs from fellow politicians to free all slaves. It will take 20 extra votes from the House to get the amendment passed, but with the nation divided by the war, finding the men who are brave enough to cross party lines is a challenge.
There are so many small cogs inside “Lincoln” that would bowl over any other director, but Spielberg makes them all work succinctly. As abolitionist Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Academy Award-winner Tommy Lee Jones (“The Fugitive”) gives a strong performance, which puts him in the short list of Best Supporting Actors this year. In a male-heavy cast, the category could also see Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck”) find a spot in the top five. His role as Secretary of State William Seward) is his best work since his award-worthy turn as broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow.
“Lincoln” will be, at times, a chore to get through if dialogue-heavy scenes and constitutional debates don’t fascinate you. But screenwriter Tony Kushner packages it all in such an intelligent and thought-provoking way, you can almost forgive it for its grandstanding moments, which are plentiful.
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”)
Written by: Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”) and Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”)
In my generation, childhood affection for horses was strictly a girl thing. No male I’ve ever known has squealed with delight at the mention of a pony. No guy I’ve ever met has ever doodled pictures in their notebook of the majestic steed they hoped to get for their birthday. That’s not sexist; it’s just a fact: horses were for girls. Maybe it has something to with the landmark boys’ toys of my youth being Transformers and G.I. Joe, while the girls my age had My Little Pony. Hasbro made the call. If my disinterest in horses is entirely market-driven, then it shouldn’t be surprising that the commercials for “War Horse” left me rolling my eyes. Why is this teenage boy whining so much about his horse?
Directed by Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”), “War Horse” follows the adventures of Joey, a horse owned by teenager Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine). Purchased by Albert’s drunken father (Peter Mullan), Joey is saddled with the burden of saving the family farm. Trained by Albert to plow the field, Joey earns the admiration of the village. However when a flood wipes out the crops, money is needed to pay the rent. Joey is sold to the British army on the brink of World War I as Albert vows to reunite with him one day. As the war progresses, Joey’s journey takes him across Europe, and across enemy lines, from one owner to another.
As proven with “Saving Private Ryan,” no one directs early-20th century battle scenes like Spielberg. From an early charge of the cavalry to a later battle in the trenches, the sequences here end up more family-friendly than the grisly, gory nightmares depicted in “Ryan” without losing the immediacy that made that film the standard-bearer. As the last conflict where man and beast worked together, World War I proves to be fertile ground for Spielberg, depicted here as a turning point in the history of war where mounted soldiers swung swords while being fired upon by machine guns. That’s the story you’ll wish was being told here. As it turns out, the film strays a little too far into schmaltzy territory when no weapons are being fired. As mentioned before, pre-Army Albert comes across whiny, and his passionate love for his horse falls on the wrong side of cheesy. One of Joey’s stops, with a sickly French girl and her doting grandfather, feels too cute by half and is mercifully ended by a battalion of German soldiers. And the less said about the sassy goose and Joey’s horse friend, the better.
It is a testament to the power of Spielberg, however, that the too-earnest parts can somehow stitch themselves together in a satisfying way, teaming up with the director’s masterful combat scenes to craft an uplifting conclusion that ends up bringing a tear to your eye.
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig
Written by: Steven Moffat (debut), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), Joe Cornish (”Attack the Block”)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”)
If you mention “The Adventures of Tintin” in the confines of Europe, you won’t have to go far to find fans of the immensely popular comic book and TV show. Mention it in America, and you’re just as likely to get confused looks and blank stares. Tintin is a national treasure in Europe, as evidenced by its $240 million international box office haul prior to its opening in the U.S. But for some reason, like man-purses and the metric system, it has never truly caught on in the United States. One person that did take to the comics just happens to be powerhouse director Steven Spielberg, who secured the rights to adapt it into a film series back in 1983. Likening it to an “Indiana Jones for kids,” Spielberg has teamed with director Peter Jackson and the art of motion-capture animation to finally bring the whip-smart Tintin to life on the big screen.
When the young journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchases a model boat at an outdoor market, he is immediately confronted by Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) in efforts to buy the ship off him. After the ship is broken and a scroll falls out unbeknownst to Tintin, he is kidnapped by Sakharine and taken to the SS Karaboudjan. With the help of the chronically drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin and his dog Snowy escape. From there, they discover that there are at least two other model ships, each containing a scroll with a clue to a sunken, treasure-laden ship that Sakharine and Haddock’s ancestors were once aboard. Trying to beat Sakharine to the scrolls and the treasure, Tintin, Haddock and Snowy must travel through Europe by any means necessary.
The film wastes little time on introductions, as Tintin’s crime-solving prowess is only referenced in a series of press-clippings following an impressive silhouette-filled, spy-thriller inspired opening credits. Still, audiences young and old alike are able to grasp what it is Tintin does best. There’s a strong sense of adventure and playful humor as we watch Tintin and Snowy try to keep Haddock under control, all whilst trying to evade Sakharine. Bell and Serkis are particularly good in their voice roles. Serkis, with a bold and boisterous Scottish accent, attacks the motion-capture role (as he does in all of his mo-cap work) with the intensity and effort of someone who is a leading actor. If there is one element of “The Adventures of Tintin” that does not work it is the Thomson twins voiced by British comedic actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Playing bumbling detectives trying to solve the case of a local pickpocket, their humor mostly misses the mark and the B-story line of the pickpocket fails to live up to the excitement of Tintin’s adventure to retrieve the scrolls.
Using Peter Jackson’s digital effects company Weta, who was responsible for “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and “Avatar,” “Tintin” boasts some of the best motion-capture animation ever produced. While still keeping a cartoon-like sensibility, “Tintin” features incredibly photorealistic faces and settings. Even smaller details like mouth movements are precisely accurate, preventing any distraction from the masterful voice performances. Since Spielberg treated the film like it was live action, the camera movements add another layer of realism to the animation. One sequence in particular that demonstrates this approach is a “one-shot” multi-character chase through the streets of a Morrocan village. It is easily one of the most fun adventure sequences in a movie all year.
While Haddock’s constant state of drunkenness, including some serious enabling by the dog Snowy, might be seen as inappropriate for some parents, “The Adventures of Tintin” is a fun adventure film spanning air, land and sea. It remains to be seen if the film can be successful in America though. If it is, we have a Peter Jackson-directed sequel to look forward to, with Jackson and Spielberg teaming up to co-direct a possible third film. Make sure to also opt out of the 3D if you have the chance. It doesn’t really accentuate the film and the impressive animation will look best with bright and deep colors, something that 3D technology neglects.
Actress Seychelle Gabriel never thought of herself as a science fiction admirer, but since starting her TV and film career only four years ago, those are the roles she’s attracting the most.
In 2008, Gabriel landed a small part in the comic-book movie “The Spirit” where she played the young version of actress Eva Mendes’s character Sand Saref. Two years later, she was cast in the role of Princess Yu in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.”
“Sci-fi really wasn’t my thing,” Gabriel, 20, told me during an exclusive interview. “It’s funny because all these things I started doing were cool fantasy-type projects. For me, I love it. I get to put myself in these amazing worlds.”
Gabriel continues her work in the sci-fi realm with the new TNT series “Falling Skies,” which stars Noah Wyle (TV’s “ER”) and Moon Bloodgood (“Terminator Salvation”). In the show Gabriel plays Lourdes, a pre-med student whose college career is cut short when aliens invade the earth. During the aftermath of the attack, Lourdes assists Anne Glass (Bloodgood) in attending to the medical needs of the survivors.
During our interview, Gabriel, who is of Mexican, French and Sicilian descent, talked about how she is similar to her character and whether or not she could survive an alien invasion herself.
“Falling Skies” premieres Sunday, June 19 at 8 p.m. on TNT.
Landing a role on a TV show produced by Steven Spielberg has to be the highlight of your career so far.
You know, when I first auditioned for it I really didn’t know anything about it. It was called the “Untitled Alien Invasion Project.” That was all I knew. I didn’t know Spielberg was attached. After I booked the pilot, my manager called me and told me Spielberg was a part of the show. It was a crazy surprise. It’s been a long journey. We shot the pilot in August 2009. A year later we started shooting the series. I am so ready for everyone to see it.
Tell me about your character Lourdes.
Lourdes is a really strong girl. She lost her family when all the aliens attacked so you meet her after she has been by herself for six months. She has developed her own life with the other survivors and has gotten really close with Moon Bloodgood’s character Anne. She finds a sort of mother-type relationship with her.
Did you find any similarities between you and your character as you shot the series?
I think we’re similar in the fact that despite the circumstances I am a determined person as well. Lourdes’s circumstances are a lot more serious than I’ve ever been through, but she someone I can admire. I’ve learned a lot from her about being grateful for what you have.
Did you try to put yourself in her situation and what you would do if an alien invasion ever happened? Would you survive?
It’s definitely something that is hard to imagine. I think I have some good ideas on how I would survive, but I’m not even sure if I would know where to start. If something like that were to happen I think you’d be just thrown into everything with people you don’t even know.
What was it like getting up close to some of the alien models on set?
The first time I saw one of the alien models I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was like, “This is why we’re all doing this!” I remember standing there and my body went into this survival instinct mode. I wanted to back away even though I knew it was not real.
Were you like, “Hey, I thought Spielberg aliens were supposed to look as cute as E.T.!”
(Laughs) They do have an E.T quality with their skin and their heads and their bodies. When you get up close it almost looks like our skin. The skin is flesh colored, but it’s crumpled up and weird and really gross.
You are part Mexican, French and Sicilian. Is there a part of your ethnic background you feel closer to than the rest?
If I had to pick I’d probably say Mexican a little more. My grandma has really held onto her Mexican family roots. She is actually someone who helped understand Lourdes. My grandmother is someone I really look up to.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Spider-Man”)
The idea worked with Sylvester Stallone when he got back into the ring as “Rocky Balboa” in 2006. It missed the mark when he returned this year for another “Rambo.” Resurrecting a film series after its last movie hit theaters more than 15 years ago seems to be the hippest thing to do in Hollywood these days. So, when director Steven Spielberg was attached to a fourth installment of “Indiana Jones” (the last one, “The Last Crusade,” premiered in 1989), it really was no surprise, especially in a cinematic day and age where original screenplays are about as hard to find as Indy artifacts.
What is a bit astonishing, however, is how very aged this series feels with the newest edition of the epic adventure “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” No, we’re not talking about the fact that Harrison Ford is returning as the title character at the age of 65. Instead, it feels worn out because there isn’t any type of evolution after almost 20 years. Where “Rocky Balboa” developed was in the way it changed from over-the-top choreographed boxing matches to realistic pay-per-view bouts. And although the recent “Rambo” lacked in story, no one can deny that the violence in this one made the first three look as vicious as Estelle Getty packing heat in “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!”
In “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Ford dusts off his fedora and goes on a search for an ancient, Mayan crystal skull said to have mystical powers. Actually, it is a group of Soviet KGB agents who want to get their hands on the skull and have forced the professor of archeology to come along for the ride. Leading the Russian antagonists is Irina Splako (Cate Blanchett), a dominatrix-looking (grab that whip Indy!), Ukrainian-sounding Soviet who kidnaps Jonsey and forces him to help her solve the skull’s secrets.
Set in the 1950’s (“Last Crusade” takes place in the late 30’s), Indiana is flanked this time by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a huffy, motorcycle-riding greaser who comes to Indy when his grandfather (John Hurt), an old colleague of Jones, goes missing in Peru while searching for the lost city of gold.
Following the same exact formula as the prior films, we are given all the creepy-crawling bugs, blazing chase scenes, and basic humor the previous trio delivered. It’s a step slower, however, as screenwriter David Koepp mismatches genres and add some sci-fi to the mix, which really doesn’t work to the film’s advantage. There’s no question that Steven Spielberg knows his extraterrestrials (“E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “A.I.,” and “War of the Worlds”), but in “Crystal Skulls” the supernatural, alien storyline becomes careless and flat.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Indy fought Nazis in “Last Crusade” and Spielberg has gone on to bigger and better things (“Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Minority Report”). It’s almost like Spielberg has found his high school letterman toward the back of his closet and tried it on just for the heck of it. Sadly, it doesn’t fit. It might be nice to remember the good times, but with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” only the biased albeit faithful fans will enjoy another less-impressive journey.