Category Archives: Daniel Day-Lewis

Movie Review: Lincoln

How do you bring one of history’s most famous and important people to life, when the only knowledge we have of them is from still photos and documents? Simple: bring in Daniel Day-Lewis. Not only can that guy act his way out of a paper bag, he would also spend an entire year studying the life of a paper bag in order to prepare for the performance.

“Lincoln,” however, is the first time I’ve seen Daniel Day-Lewis in a performance that doesn’t totally dominate every frame of the film. No, he is also guided by an impressive ensemble, who will surely take home the big ensemble prize at the SAG Awards.

Despite the title, “Lincoln” is about much more than the man himself. It is about the feelings of an entire nation during a very specific time, and how the actions of one Abraham Lincoln transcended the time he was living in. As Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis brings out a warmth and sense of humor that make him unlike any politician I could ever imagine. He always has the look of a man who will always stay firm on his beliefs. The film opens with Lincoln having personal conversations with a series of soldiers. This is the Lincoln we will see throughout: a man who just wants to hear out everyone’s opinion, and possibly make some people happy as well.

Give Steven Spielberg some credit for boldly making “Lincoln” a two and a half hour look at the 13th Amendement. This is no biopic about chopping down a cherry tree and then running for president. The limited time frame is tricky, yet it still manages to capture the best of this man by showing him as he goes through the most difficult time in his life.

Spielberg hasn’t made a truly great fantasy since 2002′s “Minority Report.” His other great strength lies in recreating history. Every little detail in “Lincoln” is so beautifully realized that you can see how much thought and research went into the making of it. It immerses you into 1860s America. Colonial Williamsburg this is not, as it vividly shows everything from the muddy streets of Washington to the dead bodies piling up in mounds in Virginia.

“Lincoln” is a rare film about politics that actually feels realistic. It takes us through the grueling process of getting a constitutional amendment passed. This time, it is the amendment that would eventually end slavery. Lincoln is not the usual president we see on screen who is exaggerated for entertainment purposes. He does not always have the right thing to say. Instead, he chooses his words wisely. I think that is partly what made him such an amazing public speaker.

One other interesting thing you will learn about Lincoln here is his voice. I always pictured it being loud and booming. If Daniel Day-Lewis is to be believed, he was much more soft spoken and down-to-earth. Everyone always says they want a president who they could sit down and have a beer with. I disagree. A president should be more like Lincoln: understanding of your needs, and able to have a conversation with you without being condescending.

I am used to seeing Day-Lewis totally dominate the screen in every role he takes. However, “Lincoln” is the first time I have seen him take a role that is more subdued. At times, he even manages to take a back seat to some of the other excellent actors. Most prominently, Tommy Lee Jones walked away with many of the scenes he was in as Thaddeus Stevens. His final scene is one of the most important and surprising in the entire film. Unfortunately, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does not get nearly enough screen time as Abe’s son Robert.

“Lincoln” is a Spielberg film, and like any Spielberg film, it cannot stray from sentimentality. In “Lincoln,” it’s not as bad as in, say, “A.I.” or “War of the Worlds.” However, it does feel a little bit thrown in here. It’s as if Spielberg thought that he had to prove to us that Lincoln was a good man by showing that he was a good father. Clearly, that wasn’t needed. However, I really did like the portrayal of Lincoln’s precocious son Tad. I have a feeling that Tad’s hatred of slavery might have helped propel Abe to push the amendment through.

“Lincoln” is complex, but not as dark as some of Spielberg’s past historical epics. This is his first one that is focused more on words than action. It is a bold choice and a risky gamble that I sincerely salute. However, because of this, the film is unnecessarily slow at times. Just because there are no scenes of action, it doesn’t mean that what is going on onscreen has to be boring. Take the scene towards the end which shows everyone in Congress voting for the amendment. What happens in our nation’s Capitol isn’t always very exciting, but this scene was brilliantly done. We all knew the outcome, but somehow there was still suspense created. That is one of Spielberg’s great gifts: to create the feeling of dread even when the outcome seems clear. I wish that the rest of the film could have been as compelling and exciting as this.

“Lincoln” is not necessarily made for everyone. It is the thinking man’s look at history, and the kind of film that will make history buffs go wild. There are many things I would have changed about it. I still feel it would have much more interesting had they opened with the time before the 13th Amendment was proposed, in which Lincoln wasn’t exactly pro-slavery. Everyone already knew what a great man Lincoln was, but I’d have like to see more of how he became the legend. I cannot change history, nor this film, so for “Lincoln” is, I believe it should be seen. It just requires something that many films don’t normally ask of us: patience.

Top 6 Most Anticipated Fall Films

6. Argo

Surprisingly, Hollywood is very accepting of stars who reinvent themselves. After the bomb that shall not be named (but I’ll do it anyway: “Gigli”), Ben Affleck established himself as a fine director with “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town.” In “The Town,” he showed that he also isn’t bad in front of the camera. And now comes “Argo,” which has earned rave reviews at the Toronto Film Festival. “Argo” takes Affleck out of Boston, as he makes his first foray into historical drama. It’s about the recently uncovered CIA mission to use a fake movie as a way to get into Iran and free the Americans taken hostage in 1979. It’s a story that sounds almost too fascinating to be true. “Argo” looks like a smart political thriller that I’ll enjoy because it speaks in a language that I can understand: movies. Also, Bryan Cranston is in it. Unless he decides to star in “Rock of Ages 2,”* he can do no wrong in my book.

Coming To Theaters: October 12

5. Looper

Director Rian Johnson is skilled at toying with genre conventions (“Brick”). I can’t wait to see what he has in store for science fiction. The concept of “Looper” is already boggling my brain, yet the idea of Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a younger Bruce Willis is kind of brilliant.** I am always prepared for disappointment  but I am envisioning this being a film along the same line as “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.” Both of those films were misunderstood upon their original releases, but gained future followings. I am hoping that “Looper” breaks through in a big way, because Hollywood still needs to see that original ideas can succeed. No matter what happens, I believe “Looper” is the kind of film that will get better and make more sense upon repeated viewings.

Coming To Theaters: September 28

4. Seven Psychopaths

It’s been four long years since Martin McDonough’s brilliant debut feature “In Bruges.” His sophomore effort, “Seven Psychopaths,” looks just as twisted and funny but with less existential dread. “Seven Psychopaths” takes us into the underworld of dognapping, which I didn’t even know existed. While its poster is very similar to the poster for “Snatch,” I believe this one will be nowhere near the same, as McDonough isn’t just constantly trying to rip off Tarantino. Plus, it boasts a nearly perfect cast that includes Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, and Sam Rockwell. No word on whether or not, like “In Bruges,” this one will also include a midget being karate chopped. I will say that I have no idea what will happen in this movie, and that unpredictability is what will make it so fun.

Coming To Theaters: October 8

See the top 3 after the jump:

3. Lincoln

“Lincoln” is the kind of film that so many have dreamed, but never thought would actually exist. It has Spielberg at the helm and Daniel Day-Lewis playing Honest Abe. Hopefully, Spielberg will appeal to his darker side and this one won’t end with the family’s house totally intact despite the fact that the entire city has been destroyed by aliens (I’m still mad about the end of “War of the Worlds”). However, recounting history is one of the things Spielberg does best. Also, did I mention that Daniel Day-Lewis is playing Lincoln? Just from one glance of the first headshot of him as Lincoln, I could already tell that this will be the closest to the real thing that we will probably ever get.

Coming To Theaters: November 9

2. Skyfall

After the Bond series reinvented itself with a vengeance with “Casino Royale,” it did a spin in the wrong direction with the disappointing “Quantum of Solace.” However, I will see a Bond movie whenever it comes out, a tribute to how timeless 007 is. Thanksgiving never feels the same without him. Plus, Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”) is directing and should be able to breath some new life into it. And Javier Bardem, who has a talent for playing villains (see: “No Country for Old Men”) will play Bond’a new nemesis. If Mendes can infuse the wit of classic Bond movies with the grittiness of “Casino Royale,” minus the technological lunacy of the Brosnan years, then “Skyfall” could be the best blockbuster of the second half of 2012.

Coming To Theaters: November 9

1. The Master

Only Paul Thomas Anderson could make a film that’s already being hailed a masterpiece based on its trailer alone. Trailers are usually misleading, but I have a good feeling that what we saw (at least in tone) is what we will get, plus much more. Seriously, I could watch that trailer on repeat. Anyway, I am  beyond excited to see Anderson’s latest take on false prophets. There has been controversy about the film’s blatant Scientology inspirations, which I don’t think will stop anytime soon. Anderson’s films haunt me long after I leave the theater. After the end credits for “There Will Be Blood” abruptly came up, I sat there glued to my seat, as if I had been shot with a stun gun. Such visceral reactions are an exciting thing that have been missing from movies lately. “The Master” is that jolt of cinematic awe that I’ve been waiting for.

Coming To Theaters: September 14

*I really hope this never gets made.
**As long as it’s not “The Kid.”

The One Tarantino Rumor I Hope is True

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about Quentin Tarantino. And over the past few posts, I’ve mentioned “Inglourious Basterds” at least once. You’re probably so sick of the name by now. However, this is one piece of news you just may have to hear.

I don’t know how entirely truthful this piece of news is. It comes from Tarantino himself. The man does have a knack for bringing up film projects he never seems to follow up on. Over the years, he’s brought up the possibility of a Vega Brothers movies, a “Basterds” prequel, and a third installment of “Kill Bill.” Those sound all like great follow-ups to such great movies. Then again, we are talking about Quentin Tarantino, one of the most original directors working today.
That is why today I was thrilled to read a story today on FilmDrunk (originally from the New York Daily News) that Tarantino is throwing around the idea of doing a film based on the Underground Railroad during the days of American Slavery. He’s defining it as being sort of like a Western, but called a “Southern.”
I’ve been hoping that someday, Tarantino would do a pure Western. However, I’m also invested on how he’s taken the Western ideology and implanted it into Nazi-Occupied France, Japan, and the greater Los Angeles area.
I can already picture Tarantino’s vision of slavery now. Like “Basterds,” it will take place in a slightly altered alternate universe and likely center around a slave rebellion. One slave will escape his plantation and seek brutal revenge on their former owner. Meanwhile, another group of escaped slaves will seek their own form of revenge by destroying plantations, and scalping lots of white people. Samuel L. Jackson will play a badass slave seeking vengeance, and Christoph Waltz will play a harsh yet charming slaveowner. Daniel Day-Lewis will have a minor, but affecting role as Jefferson Davis (just because he needs to be in a Tarantino film already).
I have a bad feeling this project might go the way of that Vega Brothers film. Let’s hope not. As much as I really want to see Tarantino save the Western by making a true one, I am enjoying seeing the ideas of the Western get inserted into other aging dramas. Has there ever been a good, tasteful film chronicling American slavery besides “Gone With the Wind?” I remember once watching an 80s version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in school. That’s about it.
Then again, if there was anyone who could make a movie about American slavery and do it right, it would be Quentin Tarantino.
More information on this here and here.
Side Note: If you must understand the true roots of my Tarantino obsession, read here.

Movie Review: Gangs of New York

Of all of the stunning images from “Gangs of New York,” one that sticks out is a shot that starts off on street level, and continues to go higher and higher until the 19th Century style buildings become the shape of the island of Manhattan. Here is a city that, over the years, I’ve grown to know and love. Here it is, in a form like we’ve never seen before.

“Gangs of New York” is Martin Scorsese’s latest vision of the mean streets of his beloved New York. However, it takes place 100 years before the days of “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver,” during Civil War ravished America.
The film starts off during a vicious gang war in 1848. Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the son of respected Irish immigrant Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). On the opposite side is Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis). Bill is the glass-eyed son of a Revolutionary War soldier who gushes with patriotism. He’s known as The Butcher not just for his day job, but for his weapon of choice.
As tensions rise between the Irish and the so-called ‘Natives,’ Bill murders Priest. Many years later, Amsterdam returns to a corrupt, Boss Tweed ruled Five Points and seeks revenge.
“Gangs of New York” shows Scorsese’s recent fascination with American culture wars, as this film can be seen as something of a counterpart to his recent “The Departed.” However, this film explores the roots of American diversity. It’s about the earliest days of bigotry, much of it rising from immigration. In a way, much of the situations and dialogue sound frighteningly similar to the current national conversation on immigration.
Adding on to this is the near accurate version of history portrayed. While Hollywood will often portray history through a myopic lens of clean precision, Scorsese takes no shame in showing the filth, the blood, and the anger that shaped this era. Extra special attention is paid to the stunning sets. At times, it can distract from actual plot depth, but it definitely helps raise the story’s level of believability.
Of course Scorsese’s direction is excellent, but what stands out most is Day-Lewis’ performance as Bill the Butcher. He is truly the best actor of this generation, and the carrier of the method torch. He steps into the character and makes him both a blood-thirsty savage and a patriot feeling betrayed by a country he helped defend. He may be racist, but his feelings can be understood. Not to mention, all he has to do is sharpen a knife, or just squint his eyes to become the most intimidating presence in the film. He basically steals all chance for any other actor in the film to shine.
Now, back to Scorsese. What makes Scorsese one of the great directors of cinema is that he knows how to handle violence better than any other director. Of all of his films, “Gangs of New York” may be his bloodiest. While most directors might show someone being stabbed and barely show the consequences, Scorsese slows things down and allows us to see the horrible, dehumanizing consequences of each kill. Later, after another major battle, the cobblestone streets turn into a red river. To Scorsese, violence isn’t something to cheer on or admire, but rather something to be sickened by. Meanwhile, the aerial shots of the war dead are reminiscent of the sprawling images of the dead in “Gone with the Wind.”
Upon its release, “Gangs of New York” divided audiences right down the middle. I believe it is a minor masterpiece; it doesn’t reach “Goodfellas” or “Raging Bull” heights, but its certainly no sign of a Scorsese downfall either. The film runs over two and a half hours yet races by as Scorsese explores his favorite themes of honor, religion, and family. Like in any Scorsese film, the backdrop, cinematography, editing, and score of “Gangs of New York” is extremely well detailed and masterful. They portray the chaos of the era in the same way that each room in “Goodfellas” distinguished when exactly Henry was doing well or doing poorly. And while some have criticized that too much is covered at once, it all serves to cover the chaos.
Part of the problem could be in the story itself. While Scorsese at first creates the interesting idea that while Bill hated Priest, he had a deep respect for him. Once the conflict between Bill and Amsterdam arises that inexplicably seems to disappear from the film together with little explanation. Many scenes also seem pulled right out of the revenge film playbook. For example, the scene where Amsterdam saves Bill’s life so he can later murder Bill himself is pulled straight from “Once Upon a Time in the West.” A little clarification is never a bad thing.
But, these are just minor flaws. Overall, “Gangs of New York” exceeds its epic counterparts (mainly “300″) in creating a vision of the past that’s exciting and fascinating without actually losing a grip on the history part. It’s a beautifully made history lesson about the birth of a nation and a bitter love letter to a city that spawned one of the greatest directors of all time.