Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Top Ten + Two

There’s always hope: that’s the message we take away after seeing this small scale film about the on-going situation in the Gaza strip, an area surrounded by Israel. The acting is uniformly good and the story is a credible one taking time to portray the contrasts such as rich/poor, freedom/confinement, Jew/Arab. I know which side I’d pick.

A slightly altered version of the events that took place in Iran with the taking hostage of American diplomatic personnel in 1978 does not diminish the impact of the rescue attempt. Careful attention to period detail and great acting bring the events to life. Even knowing the actual outcome, the tension is palpable as you can never be sure how Hollywood will handle the facts. Riveting stuff.

Set in the South two years before the American Civil War this story about a slave is not for everyone. Despite some terrific acting, great cinematography, lots of humorous situations, some hilarious dialogue with a twist for the dramatic the unremitting violence will be too much for many.  Although some of the violence is almost cartoonish what with all the blood spatters and too much gore, some of it definitely is not. The squeamish like me will have to avert their eyes more than a couple times. And some movie-goers will be offended with the frequent use of the “N” word. Another thing: it’s long. Real long. It runs for 2 hours and 25 minutes, time some people do not have for a movie. However, given that this is definitely a “Quentin Tarantino film” those who enjoy his work will relish every moment of it.

Expectations are high any time there is a movie with Denzel Washington in it: this time he really nails it giving what is probably his best performance. Because the role calls for him to handle a variety of human emotions it’s to his credit he never goes over the top, something lesser actors constantly do. But he is not the only one who puts in a terrific performance; it’s just that he’s the best. Although flying has a lot to do with the movie storyline it’s the human side of things that make it interesting. Questions of morals and ethics abound and that makes for good ol’ fashioned solid entertainment. Despite the fact the running time is in excess of two hours, it is not a minute too long. One movie goer put it this way: “the movie is never too long when Denzel Washington is in it”.

Brilliant. No other term comes close to describing Meryl Streep’s portrayal of a woman who is unhappy with her marriage of some thirty-odd years. Not that the other two principals are slouches, it’s just that she is so much better than they are. The story will resonate with anyone who has been (or still is) in a long term relationship. There is a ring of truth about it and it does not feel fake. Perhaps one of the writer’s went through this or knows someone who did? Clearly geared to the more discerning viewer, one moviegoer so succinctly put it this way: “an interesting movie that caters to a more senior demographic although parts of it made me cringe” because of the explicit and graphic nature of some scenes. Most people will feel the same, being uncomfortable hearing others talk about their intimate personal sex life. However, like me, you can always look away if it becomes too much. But more often than not there is some comic relief, either a titter or a chuckle from someone.

Worthy of an Academy award, the performance by Day-Lewis is but one of many fine character impersonations this film has to offer. It also provides an insight to Lincoln’s interpersonal skills with people and his clear-sighted judgment in face of a terrible dilemma: end slavery or end the war. Lincoln accomplished more in the last four months of his life than most people do in a lifetime. It can be a bit confusing at times while trying to follow the House discussions (more like a yelling match than debate) and understanding the implications of the back room makeovers not to forget the under-the-table deals to outwit his opponents but the effort is worthwhile in order to get the gist of it. (My full review includes important background information.) Production values are first rate and the score by John Williams is one of his best. At 2 hours and 30 minutes it is not a minute too long given that the story being told is such an important one. 

There are more than a few chuckles and laughs in the telling of this rather unusual story including the premise itself of sport fishing in the desert. The acting is first rate and some of the scenery is pretty impressive. It is thoroughly entertaining even though the British accent keeps you on your toes so as not to miss any of the dialogue. In the words of one movie-goer “it’s a charming gem of a movie with almost unbelievable challenges facing them with great acting by all the principals”.


Unlike most movies of this sort, this one is not aimed at the younger crowd. With some serious issues, it is anything but fluff. In fact, some scenes are difficult to watch as they are that real.
With a strong storyline and some great acting by Cooper and Lawrence (De Niro too) it is at times funny, inspiring, unsettling and engaging. That makes for a strong contender for recognition of some sort, maybe at the time they give out the Academy Awards?

 The action sequences are nothing short of spectacular with some of the “traditional” elements clearly in evidence (think fruit stands) which pretty well sums up this latest version of the series: a mix of the old and the new. Beautiful locations which are a trademark of the series include Istanbul, London, Shanghai, Macau and the Scottish Highlands. The beautiful girls (another Bond staple) are there as well. The acting is uniformly good with less tongue-in-cheek than in some earlier editions. To me, this is the best Bond yet in part because of the strong cast along with the work of Sam Mendes as Director and Roger Deakins in charge of cinematography. Although a tad long at 2 hours and 23 minutes, there are very few slow spots that could be left on the editing floor.

The film takes place over a 24 hour period while former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is clearing out her husband's belongings. Her life unfolds through a series of flashbacks sometimes with actual period television footage. It’s a huge undertaking as it covers almost her entire life chronologically from when she was a teenager at the outbreak of WWII up to the year 2005. The producers have wisely chosen not to dwell too long on any of the key events that took place during her career. To have done so would have resulted in a film three or four times longer than it is and who wants that? Another good choice is to have Meryl Streep portray the Prime Minister. Streep's performance is nothing short of remarkable. She really nailed it this time, not only in the voice (and accent) but with the mannerisms and facial expressions. Streep holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations of any actor, having been nominated sixteen times. There is no doubt in my mind she will up that count by one. Production values are top notch including costume design, set decoration, makeup (the best I’ve seen in years) and cinemaphotography all contributing to its elegant look.

The discriminating viewer will be rewarded with learning more about a charismatic world-class leader who was faced with having to decide between personal happiness and her people. During the first fifteen minutes or so the movie jumps back and forth in time but these flashbacks serve only to confuse the issue since at that stage we are not yet familiar with the characters on screen. But apart from that, the film has so much going for it: great acting, beautiful cinematography, excellent pacing, a well written story and a lovely score. Although the running time is just over two hours, it is not a minute too long as this is one film with a lot to say and that should not be rushed.

This latest IMAX documentary covers some very familiar ground: global warming and the daily struggle just to survive in this harsh environment. By focusing on a mother polar bear and her twin seven-month-old cubs their plight becomes evident but the solutions are not. Meryl Streep narrates with feeling and Sir Paul McCartney has written some new songs that almost overwhelm the viewer. But not quite, as the majestic landscape draws our attention to what is indeed a serious problem. Although the producers have avoided including anything of a gory nature, that does not mean to say the film is without some sense of pending doom. By contrast, the cubs provide more than a few moments of levity so it’s a nice balance.

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