Lincoln

Director: Steven Spielberg

2012

“The Washington of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a world of collusion, compromise, and self-interest. The political sparring is brutal, with the lower chamber of Congress resembling a gladiatorial ring where legends are forged and vacillation can destroy a career.” (929, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I can’t help but think Ian Hayden Smith waxes lyrical about Lincoln – and overly so at that. I don’t agree with much of what he says. It’s a long and somewhat boring portrayal of a pivotal time in history.

Lincoln“Daniel-Day Lewis is astonishing as the sixteenth President of the United States. Like Oskar Schindler in Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust drama, we first see him from behind, hearing his voice before seeing his face. By the time we see him in close-up any trace of Daniel Day-Lewis is gone.” (929) I’m not a fan of Daniel-Day Lewis and that could have … what am I saying? It does have … a lot of do with why I find Lincoln to be one of the most boring, turgid and pointless films Spielberg has ever made. And I have a real bone to pick with Hayden Smith’s statement that by the time we see Lincoln all trace of Day Lewis has been removed. Mainly because it’s still recognizably the actor but more to the point we only ever saw still footage of Lincoln as he was assassinated before moving pictures came to be. So to say he has the characteristics of the 16th President is basically a fallacy – what we have is an actor impersonating other filmic examples of one of the most famous men in American history. Who knows what he was really like and how he moved? It’s all an interpretation. And yes while I know that all performance (and not just those on film) are just interpretations I think the thing I have an issue with is that Hayden Smith is lauding Day Lewis’ performance as being true to the person, and there is just no way that we could possibly know if that was true or not.

“The impact of one term in office and the grueling toll of a drawn-out civil war is visible in his face and physique, but when countering opposition to his plans he erupts with passion and fire.” (929) There is no denying that Lincoln made a huge impact on the landscape of American history in a very short space of time – there is a reason he is still one of the most recognizable Presidents so long after his tenure (and not just because he is now intrinsically linked to John Wilkes Booth, due to his assassination!) It’s actually a pretty interesting time in American history and yet it is still somehow a bit of a snooze-fest of a film unfortunately. The thing that interested me the most was the fight for the abolition of slavery taking place against the backdrop of the civil war raging at the same time.

And then on top of that you have all the interpersonal dramas taking place, which lend the film a much more human feel. You see the struggle of Mrs Lincoln to come to terms with the deaths and tragedies that have hit her family while at the same time being a public figure thanks to the nature of her husband’s job. Sally Fields does a tremendous job as Mrs Lincoln. I love her and her performance is one of the few things I enjoyed about the film. It’s so raw and vulnerable, yet at the same time she has this core of strength in her that makes her the equal of her famous husband.  Joseph Gordon Levitt is the poor set-upon eldest son of the Lincoln’s, desperate to be doing his bit in the civil war and yet unable to due to the strings his father pulls in order to keep him from harm.

Tommy Lee Jones in LincolnTommy Lee Jones is memorable – and not just for his laughably atrocious wig – but more for his usual grouchy self. He doesn’t hold any punches with his views and opinions and is one of the fiercest supporters of the bill for the abolition of slavery. The reason being is shown in a very touching moment towards the end of the film following the successful passing of the bill. The film concludes, just as it was starting to get interesting for me, with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln although you do get to see some of the emotional fallout from that event before the end credits roll.

“[…] Spielberg’s consummate drama is a reminder of why Abraham Lincoln is among the most revered figures in U.S. political history.” (929) I do agree that the film is a great reminder of why Lincoln is still remembered throughout, not just America, but the wider world too. And for something other than being the first President of the United States to be assassinated. Spielberg puts all of Lincoln’s achievements on display so that there is a record for the younger generations to embrace the man’s legacy. But for me, personally it was not a great film and is not one I will be revisiting – but by all means do not let that put you of watching Lincoln.

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The Sixth Sense

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

1999

“A ghost story of the highest order, The Sixth Sense works on many levels.” (876, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

The Sixth SenseThere are some films that if you don’t see them when they come out you are bound to inadvertently learn the twist about them and The Sixth Sense (along with most of M. Night Shyamalan’s back catalogue) is most definitely one of these films, Shutter Island (2010, Martin Scorsese) is another film like this – whether you read the book first or see the film first the twist is spoiled. Sadly I was only 11 when The Sixth Sense came out and since then have become not only obsessed with film but did a film degree so I went into this knowing what the twist was, which somewhat spoiled the film. Not that The Sixth Sense is a bad film because it really isn’t, just that the tension was diffused by already having knowledge of what the twist was.

It’s so nice to see Bruce Willis in a more dramatic, straight acting role rather than as an action hero. Indeed there is little, to no ‘action’ in The Sixth Sense, so you get to see a completely different side to Willis. His Dr Malcolm Crowe is professional and yet at the same time comes to actually care about Cole. They both have a profound affect on each other at a crucial stage in their lives.Bruce Willis Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense

Surprisingly I was impressed rather than irrationally annoyed with the young Cole, which I’m grateful for because he is very much the driving force of the film. Haley Joel Osment is brilliant as Cole – he has just enough vulnerability that you want to protect him rather than being a cloying cry-baby. Even a young Mischa Barton was actually pretty good.

“The spooks are there as Cole is visited by tormented apparitions, but this is more emotional drama than scary suspense film.” (876) Berry is right – this is more of a drama than a scary movie. That’s not to say there aren’t some jumpy moments. Those involving Barton’s unhappy ghost stand out in my mind but then they are linked to arguably one of the most well known ‘catchphrases’ (for lack of a better word) to come out of recent cinema.

“His clever use of muted colors and subtle hints of what is to come – the temperature dropping when a ghost is present, the use of the color red – and the twist in the tale are so neat that you want to reappraise the film rather than be annoyed that you have been led down a completely different path than the one you thought you were on. A modern, emotionally complex classic that is as achingly poignant as it is chillingly tense.” (876)

I found The Sixth Sense engaging even with knowledge of the twist – I can only imagine what it was like to watch it that first time with no inkling of what was coming. It’s a film worth watching and I hope I haven’t given anything away to those yet to watch it.

Scream

Director: Wes Craven

1996

ScreamScream, featuring a bevy of talented young actors (including Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, David Arquette, Rose McGowan, and Jamie Kennedy), took the United States by storm, bringing in over $130 million at the box office and kicking off a new wave of hip and reflexive slasher movies.” (854, Steven Jay Schneider, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Urban Legend (1998), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), and of course Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000), and the stalker parody Scary Movie (2000) all owe much of their success to Craven’s original.” (854)

Scream and the other films Schneider mentions were the horror movies of my generation. They were the films my friends and I cut our horror teeth on before going back and discovering the classics of the 1980s. I really remember watching Scream for the first time and not knowing who Ghost Face was and it was terrifying. And while it is still scary, i think it has lost something both from my multiple viewings and from the parody that is Scary Movie (the only decent film in a slew of parody movies to emerge during the 2000s but that’s beside the point)

I seem to be watching a lot of meta films recently because Scream is another film that is sharply aware of not only itself but its place within the horror genre. There’s numerous references to the classics that defined the genre and established the rules of a horror flick. And then there’s the overt reference to the film’s own director and his contributions to the genre when Tatum says Sidney is “sounding like a Wes Carpenter flick” combining the names of Wes Craven and John Carpenter, two of the most prolific and instrumental directors to come out of the horror genre.

The characters are always going on about the ‘horror genre rules” and then blatantly ignoring them resulting in their demise. Scream is a blood-fest and has some imaginatively gruesome ways of dispatching Ghost Face’s victims. I particularly love Tatum’s end at the hands of the garage door. 

“Among the reasons for Scream‘s outstanding success is an often hilarious script (written by Kevin Williamson, who would go on to create the hit teen TV show Dawson’s Creek), the numerous jokey references to earlier horror movies, and Craven’s expert direction, which manages to frighten audiences even while they’re laughing.” (854)

There’s some dark comedy in Scream too. Craven as a talent for turning the audiences’ laughter into screams in the blink of an eye. Scream very much re-established the horror genre and subjected a new generation to a slew of deliciously scary serial killers with Ghost Face leading the way. And there’s no denying that Ghost Face has become one of the genre’s icons – come Halloween it’s not unusual to see more than one roaming the streets thanks to his easily recognizable (and more importantly, easily replicated) costume.

Sidney can be annoying at times but that’s mainly due to her compliance to the genre stereotype of the female lead. There are times when you’re screaming at her to do the exact opposite of what she’s about to do and trust her instincts but than that’s part of what makes horror films so enjoyable to watch, at least for me any way.

Scream‘s intense ten-minute prologue is among the most talked-about horror scenes in recent memory.” (854)

The entire cast is brilliant, all playing their parts perfectly. I particularly like Matthew Lillard’s slightly maniacal best friend and you can’t help but love David Arquette’s poor put upon and under-respected Deputy Dewey. Courteney Cox is suitably cold hearted as the determined reporter out for the best story she can find. Having said that, the shared journey she and Sidney go on does thaw her a bit, and sets up the relationships for the sequels (which don’t actually suck like most sequels do!)

Like I said earlier Scream was one of the first horror films I watched and its pretty much responsible for introducing me to the classics of the horror genre like Halloween (1978, John Carpenter), Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S. Cunningham), and of course A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven). I will always enjoy watching Scream. It’s an excellent film to introduce someone to the genre thanks to its self-awareness and well placed comedy.

Once Upon A Time In The West

C’era una Volta il West

Director: Sergio Leone

1968

“With striking widescreen compositions and epic running time, this is truly a Western that wins points for both length and width.” (475, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Once Upon a Time in the WestOk so it’s now official – I cannot abide films in the Western genre! They are so turgid and now horribly cliché. Nothing very much even happens in them, narratively speaking, which just irritates me. They wouldn’t be so tedious to watch if something even remotely interesting were to happen but every Western I have watched is so formulaic you can predict the outcome from the first 20 minutes.

Once Upon a Time in the West is considered one of the best films within the Western genre but it did nothing for me. It’s such a long film considering how little action takes place. I completely disagree with everything Kim Newman says about Sergio Leone’s ‘masterpiece’. “The opening – Woody Strode, Al Mulock, and Jack Elam waiting for a train and bothered by a fly and dripping water – is masterful bravura, homing in on tiny details for the shoot-out that gets the film going.” (475) The opening is almost painfully boring in its attention to the minutia of everyday life that takes up the first half hour or so of the film, without any dialogue.

The music takes on a number of identifying motifs in terms of characters – the insufferable strain of the harmonica for Charles Bronson’s ‘hero’ and the particularly feminine motif that signals any scene involving Claudia Cardinale’s, Jill McBain. While this device starts out well it quickly becomes annoying, almost battering the audience over the head with the soundtrack. I think it has the side effect of underestimating the audience; those watching should be intelligent enough to follow the narrative and characters without the aid of musical directions.

There are all the typical stereotypes that have become synonymous with the Western genre – there’s the corrupt ‘man’ taking the country and its people for all its worth; the unsavory ‘black hat’ cowboy with absolutely no regard for human life; the ‘white hat’ seeking vengeance and retribution for the wrongs he has suffered and of course, the female of slightly dubious moral standing.

However they never become anything more than those stereotypes. Leone doesn’t develop them into something deeper which resulted in me failing to connect to any of the characters and not really caring about their outcomes or subsequent demise.

There wasn’t a single thing about Once Upon a Time in the West that remotely captured my attention and I found it somewhat of a chore to watch but then I have yet to find a Western that I have enjoyed.