Tuesday, November 20, 2012



I was pleasantly surprised that Lincoln, unlike the name suggests isn't a sweeping biopic, but an intimate look at the events leading up to the Thirteenth Amendment.  There's a lot of accolade given to Daniel Day Lewis for his portrayal of Lincoln and he deserves all of it.  He isn't so much as playing Lincoln as being him.  

Lincoln is like that beloved professor who tells the best stories, but not the professor you want to run into at the end of the day when you're just trying to go home because it takes him a while to get to his point (my favorite story that Lincoln tells is the George Washington story).  You really get the sense that Lincoln is so empathetic, really *loves* the people even if he doesn't know them personally, and is just full of so much compassion.  It works well for him as a public figure but in a lot of ways, there's not enough of him for his own family.

There's a really fantastic supporting cast, including Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, JGL as Robert Lincoln, Lee Pace as a staunch Democrat against the amendment, Jared Harris (Lane Pyrce lives!) as Ulysses Grant, and many many others.  Field is memorable as Mary, who really gets your respect when you see how pulled together she is just moments after breaking down.  My personal favorite out of the supporting roles, though, was hands down Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.  Stevens probably has some of the best lines and zingers in the movie.  He's extremely tough and even unsympathetic when you first meet him (even though you agree with his philosophies whole heartedly)         but he really grows on you as the movie goes on especially when he's asked to compromise some of his values for the Amendment.

The House of Representatives in Lincoln is extremely dramatic and extremely entertaining to watch.  Another one of my favorite storylines is Bilbo (James Spader) and company, Lincoln's secret "seedy" vote negotiators who help Lincoln secure the 2/3s vote he needs for the Amendment.  If they ever did a spin off of this movie, I'd love to see one about them.  Or maybe I should just go ahead and see that other Lincoln movie.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Skyfall and The Master


     Skyfall is no Casino Royale, but it's an enjoyable movie.  It pays homage to a lot of older Bond films.  One thing that I've really appreciated about the Daniel Craig Bond films is that they're trying new ways to tell the Bond story.  While Quantum of Solace with a Jason Bourne-feel didn't work too well, Skyfall does a great job incorporating and adapting classic Bond elements for a modern era.

     Craig as Bond is still as sullen, moody, and sarcastic as ever.  (It looks like our current Bond compared to the others is the best at drinking.)  He's a bit slicker in terms of his fighting compared to his brute force in Casino Royale.  This Bond is really at his best when he's exchanging quips with either M (Judi Dench) or some of his new associates.  I was afraid that for this movie, they'd revert Craig's Bond back to an extremely suave killer a la Pierce Brosnan's Bond, but Craig's Bond is still the same "rough instrument" from Casino Royale, howbeit he's feeling a bit older and outdated.

     Skyfall features a strong supporting cast.  Judi Dench as M is fantastic as always.  I've always enjoyed her relationship with Bond.  I almost wish that they had a chance to test it a bit more in this one.  Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve (Naomie Harris) were also great new additions.  Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is a bit stiff but he's not really given terribly much to do.  The same goes with Silva (Javier Bardem), the main villain, who has so much potential, especially after you just meet him.  Bardem does a fantastic job with Silva and I really wish they'd developed him more and made him more more prominent in the movie early on.

The Master 

     I saw this one a while ago and I'm still not quite sure what to make of this movie.  The Master is the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood).  The movie follows Naval veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) as he meets Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a cult leader, and joins their cause.
    The best part of this movie was hands down Joaquin Phoenix.  Freddie Quell is just insane, wild, and off the rails- an id personified.  It was fascinating to watch him because you can't quite guess what crazy thing he was going to do next or what small thing will set him off.  I also liked that although this movie was known as "the cult movie," it didn't mock cults and really tried to show the movie from their perspectives.  They delve a little into cult tactics (but most of it is about the mentality) and it's engrossing and genuinely creepy, especially the eye color scene.  The cinematography is also gorgeous.  Landscapes seem to play a large role in Anderson's movies and The Master is no exception.  

    I have mixed feelings about this movie because it meanders, seemingly directionlessly.  The character development is fantastic but I'm not sure what any of it means in the end.  There are repeated words and phrases like Dodd claiming that he's sure he's met Quell before but we don't ever get a resolution on what he means.  I can see film critics getting excited about this movie and all of the Freudian implications and there are a lot in this film, but at the same time, each of the characters, especially Quell have memories grounded in reality that it's hard to reconcile that with the explanation that the three key characters in the movie (Quell, Dodd, and Dodd's wife played by Amy Adams) are supposed to be Freudian manifestations.  Anyhow, The Master is certainly an interesting movie but also extremely baffling.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks

I just finished Freaks and Geeks and I think I'm a little heart broken as I always am after finishing something really good whether it's a movie, TV show, or book.  I don't feel ready to leave that world yet.

What's really fantastic about Freaks and Geeks are the characters.  They feel so real; they don't always make the best decisions even though you really hope that they do.  Everyone's a little lost, and I like how the show really took it's time with the characters.  You're still learning something new about each of them as the show goes on, and it's a pleasure to watch the relationships between the characters grow and change.  I don't think I've had a character grow on me as much as Kim Kelly (Busy Phillips) did since Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars.  The characters also don't behave as you expect them to and it just makes them all the more human.  I particularly liked the scene below where one of the freaks, Nick, does something unexpected when one of the nerds starts singing a religious song at a party.

Freaks and Geeks is about Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), a smart high school student who used to be a mathelete but starts hanging out with the "freaks" or the "burnouts" and her brother Sam (John Frances Daley) who is a geek but wants to be cooler.  The other freaks include Daniel Desario the bad boy (James Franco), Nick (Jason Segel) the dreamer, Kim the bossy one, and Ken (Seth Rogen) the sarcastic one.  The geeks included Bill (Martin Starr) and Neal (Samm Levine).

It's hard to pick out a single great performance because everyone in this is really fantastic.  I don't think I ever fully understood the appeal of James Franco before this show...but now I do.  He comes of as one of those impossibly cool guys from high school but as the show progresses and as Lindsay gets to know him better, she learns that he's also kind of lost and directionless just like everyone is.

Cardellini is fantastic as Lindsay.  She's the heart of the show and grounds it.  She makes Lindsay a relatable protagonist you really root for.  It's a joy seeing her become more confident and outspoken.    I think that in some ways had Lindsay been portrayed less aptly, she could have easily come off as annoying and unsympathetic.

Starr as Bill, the shy nerd who loves TV is another standout.  He's probably my favorite of the nerds and has some of the *best* moments of the show including the scene below:

One other aspect of the show I really appreciated was how they depicted the nerds.  They really show the broad spectrum of nerds.  Some of the nerds like Sam and Neal are interested in joining the cool crowd while Bill and Gordon know where they stand and are content with it.  There's also Harris who's the rare breed of nerd that you hardly ever see depicted in fiction: he's confident and totally content with his geekiness.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fall Movies!

Fall isn't really known for having great films but this fall I've had the chance to catch two really great movies and one mediocre one.


Argo is fantastic and everything you hope for from a premise like this: During the Iranian hostage crisis, six Americans escaped from the US embassy and hid in the Canadian Ambassador's house.  The CIA gets them out by posing them as a Canadian film crew for a fake science fiction movie called Argo.  It's the "best" bad idea they had.  

You know you're in for a treat when you see the intro which is one of the most creative and engaging openings for a movie that I've seen in a while.  There's a fix of real footage from Iran interwoven with story board drawings of the events in Iran.  It sets the tone for the movie- a tense, taut political drama with lots of really great humor throughout.  The CIA and Hollywood components are both enjoyable.  And throughout Argo, it maintains a really warm tone without being cheesy.  The climax of the movie does go a bit overboard, but otherwise it's a great movie.  Ben Affleck is really becoming a fine director.


Frankenweenie is Tim Burton's newest movie about a modern day (or 1950s- it's hard to tell with the bland suburban neighborhoods) young Victor Frankenstein who brings his dog Sparky back to life after Sparky's untimely death.  The movie is cute and it seems really more geared towards kids.  It doesn't really get going or find even footing until the second half of the movie when it starts thoroughly exploring Victor's science teacher's warning: science can be used for both good and evil.

While Victor and Sparky are very nice characters, they're frankly a little boring.  I liked Victor's classmates more like the creepy pale girl with a "clairvoyant" cat and Edgar, an Igor-like slightly hunchbacked boy.  
There's also a great scene displaying the gap between scientists and the public when the kids' science teacher attempts to explain himself at a PTA meeting.

All in all, a fun movie but not particularly memorable.  It doesn't grip you with really unique and touching stories as Burton's earlier Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride did.  Maybe it's the black and white (yes yes, it's a homage to older horror films) or maybe it's the lack of catchy songs but somehow it doesn't seem quite as lively.  

Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths is a blast!  It's very meta and self-referential but it does it well and with a great sense of humor.  What I liked most was how it jumped between being absolutely ridiculous, hilarious, and crazy to being seriously magnificent and bittersweet.

Seven Psychopaths is hard to describe but I'll try my best here.  There are so many loose threads at the beginning that you're not sure how and if they're meant to connect (but they do and it's fantastic).  There're two dog kidnappers named Hans and Billy who want to make some easy money (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell), an alcoholic screenwriter Marty looking for inspiration (Colin Farrell), a wronged gangster who just wants his Shih Tzu back (Woody Harrelson), and a crazy murdering psychopath running around.   
I just wish there was more room for the development of female characters in this (some of the characters in this movie do quip that the storyteller isn't very good at developing female characters beyond eye candy and love interests), but I think Linda Bright Clay as Hans' wife is wonderful, holds her weight for the female characters, and makes a very memorable impression with her scenes.

This movie's going to become a quirky cult classic in a few years.