November 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

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.

The Amazing Spider-Man

July 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Directed by: Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”)
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves

With the first three Spider-Man movies raking in almost $2.5 billion worldwide at the box office from 2002 to 2007, there was no way Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures were going to allow the franchise to fade away just because their lead actor and director didn’t want to return for a fourth go-’round. Instead, Marvel hit the reset button like they did with Ang Lee’s underappreciated “Hulk” and like DC Comics did for their inspired rebirth of Batman via the ingenious mind of director Christopher Nolan. What we’re left with is “The Amazing Spider-Man,” an unnecessary and extremely average reboot of the series that offers slight tweaks to the overall story but never commands the mythology as its own.

In the newest adaptation, Toby Maguire (“Spider-Man 1-3”) is replaced by Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”), a capable young actor cast well in the title role. He gives Spidey a bit more emotional depth based on a screenplay focused more on the mysterious disappearance and death of Peter Parker’s parents than the original 2002 film. Secret files and research related to cross-species genetics left behind by his father prompts Peter to investigate his work with fellow scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Coincidentally, Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) interns for Dr. Connors while her cop father (Denis Leary) and the NYPD want to bring the webslinger to justice.

At its core, the story is a rehash of what we already know about Peter and his transformation into the masked vigilante: laboratories, a spider bite, teen romance, masterful sewing skills, revenge on a schoolyard bully, schizoid CGI villain. To have to re-watch everything play out again doesn’t benefit anyone, especially if the purpose of a reboot to this franchise was to give audiences something fresh and exciting.

Marc Webb’s modern take on the rom-com with “500 Days of Summer” in 2009 was a much-needed change from the usual Kate Hudson schlock the genre delivers, so it was logical to think his take on the superhero movie could provide a similar resurgence. Unfortunately, Webb doesn’t stray from the original tone and does little to build on the familiar themes that make Spider-Man such an interesting character. Raimi’s versions were far from perfect themselves, but Webb’s own voice is quickly engulfed by the big-budget comic-book universe that came before him.