Saturday, April 20, 2013


Abraham Lincoln is a figure in America that may seem like a fictional creation to some. His story has become the stuff of legend, and given the distance between his time and ours, it may be hard to separate the truth from the rumors without consulting a history textbook. Thankfully (for history buffs), this film was written by an academic-caliber writer, one who even won a pulitzer prize several decades ago. Combine that with the talents of acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, and it's no wonder this film received all the accolades it did. But despite the pedigree of the screenwriter and filmmaker (or perhaps because of it), Lincoln may be a trial of patience for those lacking tolerance toward period dramas with a penchant for flowery dialogue. I start my review this way not to dissuade people from seeing it, but rather to offer a buffer to the extreme and nearly universal praise this film has been given.

Lincoln tells the story of the titular American President and his efforts to sign the 13th Amendment to the constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. Lincoln's goals are twofold as he is disgusted by slavery as a whole, but also sees the amendment as the perfect device to end the Civil War. However, many in the House of Representatives see the amendment as treason, going so far as to call President Lincoln a dictator for proposing such an amendment. They feel that peace should be established using other means, and are convinced that Lincoln is purposely refusing to negotiate with the Confederate leaders in order to give his amendment priority. In an attempt to get the necessary votes for the amendment to pass, Lincoln focuses his attention on the "lame duck" democratic representatives who have lost their re-election campaigns and have nothing to lose by changing sides. After a last-minute call for the vote to be postponed, the 13th Amendment is officially passed and Lincoln rides to Virginia to accept General Lee's surrender.

The plot summary did contain spoilers, so hopefully everyone has taken a 5th grade history class before reading this review. Clearly, based on my star rating, I deeply enjoyed this film. It's a terrific depiction of one of the most important events in our country's history. I'm sure this will come as no surprise to anyone either, but Daniel Day-Lewis does an unbelievable job portraying Abraham Lincoln. Not only does he look uncannily like every picture I've ever seen of the famous American President, but his every utterance is truly remarkable. Each story he tells, each speech he delivers makes you think you are watching some kind of time capsule of the actual Lincoln in the flesh. There's no doubt that his Oscar was well-deserved.

While Day-Lewis obviously lived up to the hype, some other aspects of this film were sadly underwhelming. John Williams, probably the best film composer to ever live, turned in a completely forgettable score. In fact, I feel the best moments of this movie were those where no music accompanied them. Parts of the music were derivative of the far superior "War Horse" soundtrack, while others were almost distracting to the brilliance of Daniel Day-Lewis. As mentioned above, I also felt the screenplay was somewhat overdone (if one can say that). I didn't live in the 1800s, but I'm sure that every person didn't speak as eloquently as they're portrayed in this film.

Overall, this is still a tremendous film. Spielberg does a great job of balancing the many characters and paying tribute to the legendary US President who changed the lives of millions and "unborn millions to come."  It isn't a perfect film, but it's still an impressive achievement. This movie should be seen, though you may have to be in the right mood to do so (just ask Lara). I give Lincoln a strong three and a half stars.

LINCOLN is rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I had a great experience going to the giant IMAX screen at the Jordan Commons Megaplex Theatre on Tuesday for a pre-screening of this film. Tom Cruise is sort of hit-or-miss for me, though I have enjoyed him in the sci-fi genre for the most part. I enjoyed movies like Minority Report and the recent Mission Impossible films a great deal, and my favorite Cruise performance may be the self-deprecating Knight and Day. The trailers for this movie were certainly intriguing, though I couldn't help feeling that they may have given too much away in that initial preview. With that and the less-than-ecstatic reviews that had already been recorded, my expectations were somewhat tempered going into this viewing.

Oblivion begins in the year 2077, where Jack Harper works as a drone repairman on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The opening monologue describes the destruction of the moon, which in turn caused devastation on Earth's surface as tides and weather patterns were irreparably altered. Once the "invasion" began, the human race had no choice but to resort to nuclear warfare, making the surface uninhabitable. While most of the population has vacated the planet, drones continue to sweep the area for any surviving "scavs", though occasionally giving the impression of hostility toward Jack as well. A reasonably curious man, Jack takes note of the strange behavior shown by the drones, though his partner Victoria won't hear a word of it. They are both being monitored by Sally, a woman at the space station observing their progress via video conference. As Jack's suspicions mount, however, his relationship with Victoria suffers, culminating in the discovery of human survivors who have crash-landed from cryosleep. As Jack grows more familiar with one of these survivors, it becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems.

Seeing this film in the IMAX format was a tremendous asset to my appreciation of Oblivion. The screen is so massive and all-encompassing that one can't help but find themselves wrapped up in the story being played out before them. It also helps that the visual effects in the movie are some of the best I've seen recently, though some of the design aspects are derivative of other popular works of science fiction. Anyone who has seen Independence Day, for example, will certainly see some glaring similarities in this movie's climactic scenes.

Having said that, the film has some very interesting concepts that are being explored throughout the narrative. Just like one of Cruise's previous sci-fi films, Minority Report, there are mind-bending themes and twists that spark intellectual discussion once the credits roll. If I didn't know any better, I might think this movie is an adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick novel or short story. It's almost a sort of amalgam of several different aspects of each of his stories, pulling them all together in an intriguing, yet not wholly original sci-fi action spectacular. Were this film in the hands of a more experienced director, I think it could have balanced its many plot points far more effectively and produced a more satisfying story.

Oblivion is a good film, but I was kind of hoping for a great film. With such promising material, I think a few little tweaks during the screenwriting process might have resulted in a more coherent whole. Despite its problems, this is still a very entertaining film, with plot twists and thought-provoking ideas to spare. The visuals alone deserve theatrical viewing, so I recommend this film to less demanding fans of science fiction. Oblivion gets a solid three stars.

OBLIVION is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Despite not really following the sport that closely, I've always been a bit of a sucker for baseball films. I grew up loving movies like The Natural and one of may favorite sports films in the last few years was Moneyball. So, when I saw they were making a bio-pic of Jackie Robinson that was co-starring one of my favorite actors of all time (Harrison Ford), I knew I was going to see it. However, I had a few reservations going into this film that I have a difficult time articulating. Perhaps it was the inclusion of a Jay-Z song in the trailers, or maybe the completely unknown lead starring as the legendary baseball player, but I wasn't sure what the quality of the film would be.

42 tells the true story of Jackie Robinson's rookie season in the MLB, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the years 1946-1947. The owner of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey (Ford), is concerned that they may be missing a large portion of their audience by restricting African-Americans from playing in the MLB. He tasks his assistant with the duty of finding a suitable player to break the controversial boundary, finding Jackie Robinson, a gifted albeit hard-nosed shortstop who has a penchant for stealing bases. As Jackie climbs the ranks of the professional baseball world, however, he meets opposition that could not only put a stop to their game-changing move, but also put him and his family in physical danger.

Given that this is a historical film, I was very interested to see some of the back-story of one of baseball's most influential and inspirational figures. I've heard some complaints about the retelling of Jackie's story being too reverential, refusing to expose his personal demons or looking deeper into his struggles. However, as this has become something of a stereotype in the biographical genre, I found it somewhat refreshing that we weren't subjected to a harsh, unflattering portrayal of one of baseball's most beloved players. I didn't need to see Jackie Robinson's deeply troubled adult son struggle with drugs after returning from the Vietnam War or experience the depressing realities of the baseball legend's final days. The movie wisely focuses on the inspirational tale of Robinson's history-making rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, paying tribute to a true American icon.

Some of the only complaints I have with this movie are with the acting, particularly in the film's early scenes. The exchanges didn't entirely gel for me, and while I like the actors in other things, I felt some of the performances were too "showy" to be completely believable. However, despite his relatively unknown status in Hollywood, Chadwick Boseman does an admirable job of portraying the emotional journey taken by Jackie Robinson during that troubling time. He has the physicality for the role, but also is likable, which is absolutely necessary for this part. Harrison Ford also put in a good performance, settling into the older role quite nicely.

Overall, this is the first real "feel-good" film of the year, and while it isn't necessarily a perfect effort (the ending is a little abrupt), I still couldn't help but enjoy 42. The story is almost too good to be true, but the reality of it makes it nearly impossible to dislike. One sign of a good movie is obviously the reaction of the audience, and most of the people in our theatre were deeply involved in the story and even applauded at the end. This movie is a true crowd-pleaser, and I recommend you go see it with the whole family. I give 42 three and a half stars.

42 is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language

Wreck-It Ralph

I've wanted to see this film for a long time, but for one reason or another, I haven't been able to until yesterday. Having grown up in a home where video games were a daily routine (at least, during the summers between school years), I have a lot of history beginning with the Atari and the original Nintendo system that made the premise to this movie instantly stand out.Whenever I don't see a movie soon after release, I always bring a bit of baggage into it from the recommendations of those around me. Most have been glowing, but there have been a few detractors. Nevertheless, I tried to keep an open mind and rid myself of any expectations before watching the film for myself. 

Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in an 8-bit arcade game entitled "Fix-It Felix Jr.", where Ralph wrecks an apartment building and the player controls the titular Felix to fix the damage before the time expires. However, Ralph is envious of the attention that Felix gets from the other characters in their game. Ralph lives alone in a dump full of discarded bricks, and is starting to question his identity as a "bad guy", even attending a support group of video game villains to cope with the issue. However, after a disastrous 30th Anniversary Party of their arcade game, Ralph resorts to going "Turbo" (participating in an arcade game that he doesn't belong to) in order to receive the one thing he sees as his ticket to likability... a hero's medal.

This movie is easily one of the most original films I've seen in a while. The concept of arcade games being able to interact and each character having a personal life once the arcade closes is really great, and the creativity involved in the manifestation of each game world is astounding. Not only are the visuals in this film terrific, however, but the story is well written, with characters to root for and suspenseful situations in spite of the "juvenile" target audience. There are great twists and pay-offs in this movie that one doesn't normally experience in animated films (see The Croods). The unique quality of the premise requires the story to have very specific rules, and the film plays within those rules to great effect.

While it took a little while for the film to get going, it wasn't long before I was emotionally invested in Ralph's plight. He continues to insist that he's not a bad guy (despite literally being a "bad guy") and we completely understand his struggles. Part of the relatability of these characters comes down to the voice work. John C. Reilly does a great job bringing an every-man quality to Ralph, while Sarah Silverman is absolutely adorable as Vanellope Von Schweetz (a little girl with an unfortunate glitch). Their interplay is one of the best parts of this film, and the relationship they form is truly touching in certain moments.

"Wreck-It Ralph" is a great family film that can be enjoyed by nostalgic video game fans and kids alike. It might not be as good as "Brave" in my opinion, but I think it's right up there with "Rise of the Guardians" for my second favorite animated film of 2012. This is one of Disney's best efforts in quite some time, and if they continue on this trajectory, they may even reach the heights of Pixar before we know it. I give "Wreck-It Ralph" three and a half stars.

WRECK-IT RALPH is rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence

Thursday, April 4, 2013


I usually don't see the "Best Picture" winner, and when I do it's usually not until after its theatrical release. Almost every time I find the film to be entertaining, but not necessarily worthy of the mantle. It's somewhat telling that most of them end up on Netflix for instant streaming a few months after their release. Also, rated R films usually don't strike my curiosity, but since the only reason this film's R-rating is because of a few uses of the "F-word" (much like former Best Picture winner, "The King's Speech"), I decided to give this one a try. While I don't think "Argo" was my favorite film of last year, it definitely deserved its statuette in my opinion.
"Argo" is the story of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, where the American embassy is overrun and only 6 people manage to escape to the Canadian ambassador's house. Struggling to determine an acceptable means of rescue for the stranded diplomats, the CIA brings in Tony Mendez, who has had success from similar situations. Given the civil unrest in Iran, however, the only suitable option Mendez can come up with isn't exactly what the CIA had in mind. With the success of the recent "Star Wars", sci-fi films have become a hot commodity, giving Mendez the idea to create a fake Star Wars rip-off called "Argo" that requires location shooting in Iran.
This movie is full of suspense, which isn't something I usually say about stories based on true events. Ben Affleck, both the star and director of "Argo", does a terrific job recreating historic footage of the riots taking place in that time period. The fear is palpable every time the crowds are depicted on screen, particularly when the van of stranded Americans has to somehow make its way through a massive and violent protest.
The acting in this film is uniformly terrific, particularly from supporting players such as Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston. Each aspect of the film is equally enjoyable, whether it's producers discussing how the fake movie will be funded, or behind-the-scenes conversations of CIA operatives debating the enormous risks of the mission. Despite the entertaining quality of the film, it also manages to educate its audience on a period of history that I personally wasn't very aware of.
"Argo" is incredibly intense from beginning to end, and is certainly one of the best films released in 2012. It's quite a shame that Affleck wasn't nominated for Best Director at the 2013 Academy Awards (see my predictions), but the film's success makes up for this unfortunate snub. I give "Argo" four stars.
ARGO is rated R for language and some violent images