But clearly, Tuesday was not just any other day...
|'Finally, after nearly two hours of Lincoln wrestling with the same idea, one of his inner circle proclaims, 'I cannot listen to this any more!'. My feelings exactly.'|
Like War Horse before it, Lincoln does not see Steven Spielberg operating during his finest hour but, unlike War Horse before it, a less-than-top form Spielberg here cannot pull out an at-least-acceptable film. The truth is that Lincoln is dour, not just in tone but also in pace, plotting, visuals and script. This is a slow-moving, feet-dragging, muddle of a history piece; a film that feels the need to repeat its central conflict more times than it feels the need to put something exciting on screen.
That central conflict is summarised early doors by William Seward (David Strathairn, who is great but who has also been on autopilot since Good Night, And Good Luck). 'It is either the Amendment or this Confederate peace', Seward tells Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), using a line that also featured in the trailer, 'you cannot have both'.
Fact passed on, Lincoln proceeds to wrestle with this idea. For the following two hours. He wrestles with it on his own, in prophetical anecdotes to rooms full of people, with his wife (Sally Field), with his chief advisers, with Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and with his adversaries. Finally, after nearly two hours of wrestling with the same idea and with every character in the cast having had just about as much of Lincoln wrestling with the same idea as I had, one of his inner circle proclaims, 'I cannot listen to this any more!'. My feelings exactly.
What little attempt there is to spice up the innate boredom of listening to the same problem repeated over and over again is so ill-handled that it leads to the tone flying all over the place. James Spader is a riot as an ill-mannered lobbyist, charged with ensuring Lincoln gets his amendment (which he cannot have as well as the Confederate peace), but he is from a different film all together, playing the equivalent of a live-action Disney villain. Stick him in 101 Dalmatians and he would not look out of place. The family element too, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as one of Lincoln's sons, desperate to 'do' something in the war, feels tacked on and anonymous.
That element in fact speaks to one of the film's wider failings, and the reason why all of that pondering over the central conflict does not matter one jot: Spielberg never gives us a reason to care about the amendment getting through, or the war being stopped, outside both occurrences obvious and vital contextual resonances. There is just no individuality to either option. There's evidence that, at some point, some thought went into this. David Oyelowo shows up briefly as a sympathetic, strong-minded, solider but he's gone after a scene. Jared Harris is fantastic as Ulysses S. Grant (one of many historical figures reduced to a footnote). He gets, perhaps, three scenes. There's just no-one to invest in. No-one's salvation to pray for.
Day-Lewis, not the first actor to win an Oscar for a great performance in a mediocre film, is significantly committed to his charge and there's no-one else that could have delivered this role the way he does but even he gets lost under swathes and swathes of babbling script and shot after shot of people contemplating, yes, that question, by staring off into the middle distance from behind an antiquated desk. History shouldn't be this dull, or dour.
Lincoln is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday June 3rd 2013.
|'At the start of the film, Gu-nam is clearly presented as 'The Cab Driver'. By the end he is something else.'|
Initially masquerading as a rather bog standard Thriller - sporting something along the lines of a 'one last job' narrative - Hong-jin's Na film eventually shows its true colours as a member of South Korea's club of extremely violent revenge flicks. The first third may build slowly, as fish-out-of-water Gu-nam (Jung-woo Ha) sets out on a road to clear his debt, but the final two thirds are increasingly brutal and violent, as The Yellow Sea morphs into an Oldboy-alike violent opera.
The episodic nature of Na's film helps it to separate out its segmented structure of grit-flecked drama and clinical stylised violence. At the start of the film, Gu-nam is clearly presented as 'The Cab Driver'. By the end he is something else. Along the way, the journey clearly has its impact on an already troubled life, as the struggling protagonist negotiates gangsters, assassinations and a plentiful supply of very sharp axes. The Yellow Sea's structure drags us along with him, from near-innocence to participation in rather vicious bouts of ultra-violence.
There is though, crucially, some substance here too which prevents The Yellow Sea from being merely another brief film of blood-letting. Na takes great pains to examine the lives of an immigrant, represented here by the Joseonjok people of South Korea, to which Gu-nam belongs. Alternatively he is used, abused and subsequently dropped by a variety of people, as he works towards establishing a foothold for himself. He is always an outcast, almost always on his own, or experiencing loneliness, separated from his family, never with an ally. It is a powerful, almost literal, rendering of how being a cultural 'outsider' can impact a life.
The direction too from Na is occasionally stunning, though some poor effects, notably during the car chase sequences, do let him down. An early boat journey, which takes Gu-nam from Yanji in China to South Korea, clearly lasts a long time. In Na's world it is over in two minutes, perhaps less, a burst of short scenes that nevertheless leave you with a vivid picture of death, poverty and abject grime.
Those feelings continue to permeate the film throughout, as we morph into the violent conclusions it probably always suggested were inevitable.
|'one of the more compelling police procedurals offered over the last few years'|
Let down on occasion by its less than stellar cast, The Silence is still one of the more compelling police procedurals offered over the last few years. Indeed, one of its main strengths is in taking that genre and broadening out what can be offered. There's a relationship of some sort taking place between this and Bong Joon-ho's Memories Of Murder and certainly every member of The Silence's cast of characters is suffering from the latent feelings left by past brushes with violence and death.
At the films centre an investigation rumbles into why a young girl appears to have been abducted in exactly the same way as a different girl, twenty-three years earlier. Detective David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg), grieving from the death of his wife by cancer, gets the least interesting part of the plot, as he recovers under the wing of retiring detective Krischan (Burghart Klaußner) and stumbles around solving the mystery.
In fact, Jahn's less-than-interesting development is mainly down to the fact that he is surrounded by a large band of ambiguous, layered supporting players, none of whom are entirely 'good' or 'bad'. Most interesting of all is Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring), whose clear guilt is tempered by an apparent reluctance to be quite as evil as he might be and the hint that he is on the verge of redemption. His eventual conclusion, distinctly individual when compared, again, to other perhaps more mainstream procedurals, is worryingly indecisive and dares to tempt the viewer into dissatisfaction.
Technically perhaps, The Silence suffers a little from looking a touch made-for-TV, though director Baran bo Odar does bring in some lovely shots - a car being tracked by an overhead helicopter looks like something out of video game, the bright yellow straw fields are distinct - it can resort to more bland tricks. The music is extremely predictable in its execution and almost everyone who works with David is fairly low-rent hire-a-cop. With all that though, this tries new things in familiar territory and crafts a bleak vision of the influence of death on all around it.
|'Only when the director ups the ante with action set pieces (car vs helicopter) is Grodin forced to go outside of his near-comatose comfort zone.'|
Much-referenced when talking about shallower contemporary films such as The Bounty Hunter, Midnight Run may have once held the high watermark of the miss-matched buddy comedy, but surely has since been surpassed by a selection of better, funnier films. Sure, Martin Brest's 1988 Comedy-Thriller has its moments, but is it up there with The Long Kiss Goodnight or Lethal Weapons 2, 3 and 4, all of which came after it?
One-liners in George Gallo's script do hit their marks on several occasions. A running gag about a pair of sunglasses culminates with Robert De Niro describing the excellent Yaphet Kotto as 'agent Foster Grant', which is smile raising but hardly likely to see the screenwriter at a comedy award evening any time soon.
Meanwhile, the relationship between bounty hunter Jack Walsh (De Niro) and his target Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) remains fairly stilted. De Niro goes for his role with bravado and outlandish physical acting but Grodin underplays so much he gives the relationship a very odd dynamic. Far from being a man panicking about his possible assassination at the hands of the mob, or imprisonment by Walsh and Kotto's FBI agent, he seems to be a man out for a gentle holiday. Only when Brest ups the ante with action set pieces (car vs helicopter) is Grodin forced to go outside of his near-comatose comfort zone. Others have commented that this is one of the film's strengths but, to me, there's not enough fun in the duality between the two leads.
Secondary to this is the real lack of concrete antagonist. Kotto is far too fun, whilst Dennis Farina's mob boss stays too distant for too long and several underlings rotate with too much frequency.
It results in a film that is fun, but only in a muted sort of way. Midnight Run also spreads the positives it does have too thinly, resulting in a vastly inflated two hour-plus runtime. It's a good 1980s Thriller but the high watermark for buddy comedies? Please report to Riggs and Murtaugh's office.
Midnight Run was showing on Sky Go.
|'feels like a distinctly asinine throwback to awful 1990s Action Thrillers, of which Cusack was never really a part'|
John Cusack's extensive and tumultuous back catalogue has its fair share of oddities. Shanghai, which remains unreleased in the US, despite its $50 million budget, is a recent example but there's also a litany of fairly average genre rubbish to add to critically acclaimed outings like High Fidelity or the occasional art house indulgence such as Being John Malkovich.
The Numbers Station fits into this collection about as uncomfortably as a pair of too-tight boxer shorts. As Emerson, Cusack is essentially playing a humourless version of his Grosse Pointe Blank character, before he left government employment and become acerbic. The problem? Grosse Pointe Blank was sixteen years ago and Cusack, who never had great action chops to begin with, fits the role of hard case anti-hero even less well than the collection of ageing past-its indulging themselves in The Expendables series.
Of course, had Kasper Barfoed's film been any good, the suitability or otherwise of Cusack to do this sort of thing potentially might have mattered less. Stuck in a bunker with codesmith Catherine (Malin Akerman) though, Cusack and Barfoed have nowhere to go, left at the mercy of F. Scott Frazier's script which offers the already pretty poor Akerman lines like, 'Emerson... lie to a girl, would you.'
Meanwhile, Richard Brake's bad guy gets very short shrift indeed and Paul Leonard-Morgan's music does its best to sound like a Brosnan-era Bond score. The whole thing feels like a distinctly asinine throwback to awful 1990s Action Thrillers, of which Cusack was never really a part.
A situation where The Numbers Station could have worked arises at the beginning of the final third, as Akerman and Cusack find a list of fifteen things that could have quite easily formed the basis for a TV series; Catherine's trapped codie forced to help Cusack's disenfranchised spook do a bit of good. In film form though, this is ninety-minutes of very below average, low-rent plotless garbage, of interest probably only to Cusack completists and fans of bad nineties cinema.
The Numbers Station is released on demand, including iTunes, on Monday 27th May.
The trailer for Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity generated some great buzz last week but in all honesty, I don't think it's that great a tease. What is noteworthy in the buzz stakes though is this piece on In Contention, which is essentially about a cast presence in the film but has some very positive early reaction amended on to its rear end. Sandra Bullock to be pushed for an Oscar? You heard it here (there) first.
Trailer Of The Week is a regular Film Intel feature which picks a different tasty trailer of delectable goodness every week and presents it on Sunday for your viewing pleasure. Sometimes old, sometimes new, sometimes major, sometimes independent, sometimes brilliant, sometimes a load of old bobbins: always guaranteed to entertain. If you want to make a suggestion for Trailer Of The Week, see the contact us page.