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- Jim’s cheat sheet, March 7
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Will Movie 43 be the Worst Film of '13?
LINCOLN ** (152 minutes) M
Yes, it's important. Yes, it's worthy. Yes, the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln is bound to land him yet another Oscar.
Yet Steven Spielberg's elongated ode to the sterling courage and character of the 16th President of the United States is a wordy, often trying chamber piece that unspools like a beautifully illustrated history lesson.
The film's heavy liberal tone also sap much of the proceedings of genuine dramatic tension. Lincoln's supporters are cast as right-thinking progressives, his opponents as bull-headed, mono-dimensional throwbacks whose impassioned speeches ring hollow with the convenient contempt of hindsight. The film's overwrought music score also signals the almost angelic aura of Lincoln's history-altering cause.
Set in the dying days of the Civil War, Lincoln is struggling to gain support for an amendment that will abolish slavery. Thing is, his success depends on doing it before the end of the war, even if that means prolonging it.
A flurry of negotiating, deal-making and arguments ensue, all of which will fascinate those infatuated by the details of American history - accounting, no doubt, for the film's huge domestic box office ($170 million and counting) - but that may well strike others as an ornate, very well-acted, exhausting talkfest.
Oddly, Spielberg chooses to set his gabby epic largely indoors as the huge roster of supporting players debate, connive and maneuver. This gives Lincoln a rather inert feel, especially given that there is a war going on.
It's infuriating that spectacular battle scenes are described in the film, but not shown. With all respect to his latter-career move into more serious, weighty subject matter, Spielberg could still have graced us with a few eye-popping set-pieces to remind us of the cinematic flair that made his name. And to make the film a tad more entertaining.
But here Spielberg seems intent on proving himself a verbal storyteller rather than a visual one. Much like the yarn-spinning Lincoln himself, as shown in some of the film's more amusing scenes, this can elicit fascination from some, stifled yawns from others.
The showcase of acting from the great supporting cast - Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader - is often impressive, and the central performance from Day-Lewis is extraordinary. He really does inhabit the character so totally you'd swear it was a photo portrait come to life. Still, it's not quite enough to lift the film beyond the lengthy, earnest talkfest it is.
To be perfectly honest, and as strange as it might sound, the issues of slavery, racism and emancipation is much better dealt with in Django Unchained, a film that airs out an important topic without neglecting its duty to entertain.
Fun facts: Liam Neeson, who played the lead in Spielberg's Oscar-winner Schindler's List (1993), was originally cast as Lincoln but pulled out during the lengthy development process because he felt he had become too old for the part; Spielberg first tackled the issue of slavery in Amistad (1997), a well-meaning, 152-minute courtroom drama that failed to find an audience.
HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS ** (88 minutes) MA
In this pulpy, VFX-driven fairy-tale makeover, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Brit Gemma Arterton, bearing an inexplicably heavy American accent) have grown into leather-clad crossbow and gun-wielding assassins who slaughter witches and other assorted fairy-tale baddies. It's silly, sure. Trouble is, it's not silly enough. More jokes amid the mayhem would have lightened up the supernatural carnage. Instead, they swear a lot, which actually doesn't make sense, even in a fantasy-fueled film. The action sequences are a let down; mostly shot in swish pans, the loss of brightness that comes with 3D makes much of the movie look like a murky blur. As an undemanding Friday night popcorn film, H&G is fine, time-killing fodder. Otherwise, it's a wait-for-DVD prospect.
Fun fact: This is the first English-language film from Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who came to Hollywood's attention via his 2009 film Dead Snow, about Nazi zombies.
MOVIE 43 DOG (98 minutes) MA
Everything you've heard is true. The reputation that has preceded Movie 43 is warranted. Intended as an envelope-pushing comedy, this series of sketches is about as funny as dropping a block of marble on your big toe.
The aim here was unquestionably noble: to make a 21st century version of such cult comedy anthology films from the 1970s as The Groove Tube (1974), Tunnel Vision (1976) and The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977).
The big difference is that those films were satires of their era. They used comedy to make points about culture, politics and sex. Movie 43 is just an exercise in vulgarity, with such topics as incest, defecation, menstruation, castration and leprechauns.
But that doesn't automatically make it bad. The cardinal sin of Movie 43 isn't that it is gross, vulgar, repulsive, disgusting, tasteless or offensive. It's that it isn't funny. It's transgression with no edge.
Bad taste can be done well - as the comedy 2005 documentary The Aristocrats successfully demonstrated - but when done for its own sake, as it is here, it simply becomes dull. And often it's excruciatingly dull. The film is like watching a comedian bomb for 98 minutes.
It's a full-scale disaster, a misfire of megalithic proportions that somehow managed to snare an A-list cast including Hugh Jackman, Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Kate Winslet, Elizabeth Banks, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Kate Bosworth, Halle Berry, Uma Thurman, Gerard Butler, Seann William Scott, Kristen Bell, Anna Farris, Emma Stone, Richard Gere and Chloe Grace Moretz, amongst many others. These folk can all now look forward to Movie 43 coming up in every interview they do.
As awful as it is, the reviews have been so relentlessly acidic that Movie 43 could very well become a cinematic curio, acquiring a so-bad-it's-fun mystique that turns it into a cult film once it hits the home entertainment market.
That's provided, of course, that there is a sizeable featurette in which the cast explains precisely what they were thinking when they decided to take part.
In all fairness, there is one genuinely funny skit near the end called Victory's Glory. A basketball coach (Terrence Howard) repeatedly counters his team's naive belief that inspiration, persistence and determination will help them win. Instead, he tells them that the main thing they have going for them is that they are black and the other team is white. It's the closest the film comes to genuine satire.
But a comedy that is only 5% funny doesn't quite cut it.
Will Movie 43 be the worst film of the year? Let's hope so. The average human brain couldn't cope with the concept of having to sit through another film as bad as this.
Fun Fact: The film was made over four years, with production stopping and starting to accommodate the schedules of its high-profile cast.
ELLES * (98 minutes; subtitled) R
During a busy day Parisian magazine journalist Anne (Juliette Binoche) reflects on the unsettling interviews she conducted with two university students who have resorted to prostitution to make ends meet.
Made in 2011, Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska deserves somre sort of award for making such a potentially spell-binding topic so flat. The way the story gradually drifts away from the girls - Alicja (Joanna Kulig) and Charlotte (Anais Demoustier) - cheats us out of a resolution to their stories, concentrating instead on Anne's anxiety over hosting a successful dinner party for her boss.
I agree with your "Lincoln" review. The primarily problem lies with Tony Kushner, whose screenplay feels more like a stage play. Too much yapping and exposition. And why were the scenes so dimly lit? Spielberg doesn't know how to light a scene? I think perhaps the era of "big important" films has come and gone.Ryan in L.A. Tuesday 1 October, 2013 - 9:50 AM
Complaining about a movie because it doesn't have enough battle scenes? What a lousy excuse, if you knew anything about history, you would be able to tell the difference between the civil war, and Abraham Lincoln. The story was told from his point of view, Lincoln himself didn't go out into battle with his fellow comrades, and yes I'd imagine he spent most of his life indoors. The movie is about Lincoln. If you want action go look at a movie that is actually about the civil war. Your review is completely irrelevant to the sequence of the movie, and makes no sense whatsoever. I give your review a 1 out of 5 rotten tomatoes, and that's only because you are smart enough to state your pathetic thesis through constructive criticism.Ihatelistverse Sunday 2 June, 2013 - 6:59 PM
go watch transformers if you want to see the spectacular battle scenes. that isn't what the movie is about. and you're seriously knocking a film because it's filmed inside too much?! I will not be taking movie advice from you in the future with any movie.Jeff Friday 17 May, 2013 - 7:03 PM
All those beautiful old civil war tunes and Spielberg scores his film with his typical Disneyland-esque tinkly soundtrack. Great cast but the director lost his touch long ago.Peter Hillster Wednesday 20 March, 2013 - 7:49 AM
Actually, there's a ton of battle scenes depicted in the film. They just don't involve the canons.Adam Monday 18 March, 2013 - 2:12 PM
"Oddly, Spielberg chooses to set his gabby epic largely indoors.....This gives Lincoln a rather inert feel, especially given that there is a war going on"......
This movie is about the behind-closed-doors politic-ing of the War and Lincoln's focus on abolishing slavery. Of course Spielberg chose to minimise war scenes, that's not what this movie was about?. It's not an action movie, nor should it have been. Law is dry, cerebral and it makes your head hurt. I think this movie captured that brilliantly.LB Sunday 24 February, 2013 - 11:44 PM