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The goal of any historical film is to try and derive excitement and suspense enough that you’re interested for the entire runtime–even if it is someone as revered and learned and relearned as Honest Abe.
With the amount that people know of him, you’d think it would have been much more difficult to teach and inform on the subject, but Daniel Day-Lewis brings such deeply felt humanity to a role that he allows to engluf him so completely that, while the pace never quite picks up, you are enraptured watching the living visage of one of the greatest Presidents ever, one who’s probably in your pocket right now.
More than anything, this film is a courtroom drama, studying the effects of the bloodiest war in US history on the men who were on borrowed time to get the 13th Amendment passed during a lame duck session in Congress.
To that end, Lincoln also achieved another tenet of historical films: Teach me Something. I had no idea that Abe essentially bribed voted-out Democratic members of Congress with positions in the government for their vote to enact the 13th amendment.
Or that politics hasn’t seemed to change much in the past 160 years or so: Tommy Lee Jones’s Congressman Stevens spends most of the film insulting his fellow congressmen (nincompoops!) across the aisle in the Democratic party because they don’t believe in race equality; bribes and deals are cut to get things done; and that the only time stuff gets done is during Lame Duck sessions when Honey Badger Congressmen don’t give a shit.
Beyond that, it’s hard to say much–Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is stellar; Tony Kushner’s screenplay brought into the third dimension two and a half hours of speeches and stories; and John Williams’s score wasn’t overpowering, but subtle in its emotional direction–beyond that, though, there’s really not much than can be said about the Best Picture Winner of 2012 (Yes, that’s my prediction, even though I’d obviously prefer the Master) except…
Some Nitpicky Shit that nobody else may care about (but I do!)
Up until now, Steven Spielberg has had me worried–it’s not that he’s slipped at all as a filmmaker, but that I just haven’t enjoyed the last two films of his that I saw. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a two hour clusterfuck, and War Horse had me so distracted with its lighting choices that I never could get into the film.
Those lighting choices are here, too: Between War Horse and this film, it seems as if he’s started to move toward pointing harsh white lights on all his actors at all times in spite of the coloring of the rest of the scene.
In War Horse, it was fairly acceptable as it seemed like a fitting lighting design for a film that originally came from a stage play. But, here, it’s just distracting at first, and I had to continue to consider its thematic uses because, against such a ridiculously rich period piece, it simply looked awful at points.
But then I decided that it was more to give the actors with any sort of humanity an almost angelic glow, as if highlighting those who were fighting the good fight, and those who were fighting against it. I came to this conclusion mostly because Jackie Earl Haley’s turn as the Confederate VP is never shone in such a light, but in other scenes, each and every person in the background has a white spotlight shown on their faces.
It’s weird, unnatural, and distracting, but it definitely helped to accentuate the dichotomous nature of humanity because, most of the time, the light is often from only one direction, allowing shadows to fall across the faces of the actors in a way that hints at their own uncertainty at whether or not any of this will work.
So it has its thematic purposes, both here and in War Horse, but I simply can’t rectify within myself the need to use such a jolting strategy in an otherwise gorgeous film.
And I have an excuse to post this:
There’s another one, but I can’t effing find it unfortunately.
Well this movie’s a clusterfuck.
(yar, thar be spoilers on the larber side or some shit)
Okay, so let’s begin with the premise. Indiana Jones, old-ass motherfucking adventurer, is taken by the Russians to Area 51 to find something they want that’s magnetic. We don’t know what it is but it’s contained in one funny looking body bag. And its magnetism is lazy–it’ll attract gun powder as far as you want, shotgun shells from ten feet, and guns only when it feels like.
Bob Dylan plays the villain in this film and she’ s quite the Ukrainian bitch. I’m not saying that Blanchett does a bad job, it’s just that she doesn’t have much to work with. Stoic communist. We get it.
Her name in the film escapes me so we’ll just go with Bob Dylan.
So Bob Dylan wants this thing because she’s studying psychic devices or something. And this thing, whatever it is (turns out it’s actually a crystal skull), has said powers.
Okay, so then we see Indy running from the FBI (played by Janitor on Scrubs), then running into Shia LaBeouf’s character who turns out to be his son: Mutt Jones.
And we’re going to digress on a bit of an adventure ourselves concerning Shia’s character. First: his name is really Henry Jones III but they call him Mutt. The name is reminiscent of the Primus song, “My name is Mud,” (call me Aloysius Devadander Abercrombie that’s long for Mud, so I’ve been told) and, much like the titular character in the song, Mutt is a boring sonsabitch. He’s mostly there for comedic relief and to make funnies out of not funny situations. And he’s constantly obsessing over his hair. Until the end of the film.
And he has his own action sequence which sets us up to see that he can do his own shit in future Mud Jones films. And that’s what’s most perplexing about the name choice. Mutt Jones. Say it aloud. It doesn’t have the same ring as Indiana Motherfucking Jones. And it rhymes with Butt Jones.
And I’m willing to bet they’re going to try and make sequels to this series based around Mud. So let’s see how the titles would’ve sounded: “Mutt Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Mutt Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Mutt Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Mutt Jones and fuck me if this isn’t a dumb sounding name.”
They’ve accidentally run themselves into the problem of having a name that won’t sell. And I’m willing to guess that this was a planned procedure given how similar Mutt acts to Indy. He’s a foil now, but he’ll soon be a titular, ass-kicking adventurer in his leather jacket with his switchblade that’ll probably become, if LucasFilms and Co. have their way, as iconic as Indy’s hat and whip.
But Mutt Jones? Really. Unless they go with Indy Jr. and the blankety blank. And that still doesn’t sit well. This is a series that has thrived on having a shitload of syllables in their titles. And Mutt has three less syllables than Indiana.
So that’s that. Anyway, Karen Allen reprises her role from Raiders of the Los Ark as Indy’s love interest and Scott Smalls’ mom–I mean Mutt’s mom. It’s funny–another digression–because I didn’t even know she also played the mom in the Sandlot until I looked her up on IMDB.
And, as the story goes, there’s a double crosser and an asshole and some carnivorous red ants and tons of adventure in the jungles.
And then the movie takes a Dusk Til Dawn-esque turn into a straight up sci-fi movie. See, it turns out that the Crystal Skull they’ve been lugging around is a part of one of the skeletons in El Dorado that are from another dimension. One came back in Roswell, I guess, but that’s another story because apparently they’re still in the other dimension.
So once the skull is placed back on, Bob Dylan starts screaming for knowledge, and then she catches on fire and burns to death from all the knowledge she’s gained. And the entire Mayan temple turns into some kind of UFO–flat, circular, like a tea saucer. Stereotypical aliens fly in a stereotypical craft, right? Right.
And I think that that’s where I derive most of my hatred for this film. See, the other Indiana Jones movies had elements of sci-fi in them, but Spielberg, when he made the first three in the Reagan Era, didn’t have the hardon for aliens or the technology to make such ridiculous creatures. So he stuck to goblets and other biblical trinkets–y’know, things that people actually have searched for. And the funny thing is that he probably said to himself, “Y’know, this whole ‘questing for lost treasure’ thing needs a new twist. How about the treasure isn’t from God or some ancient time, but from another planet–no. dimension!” Yea, it’s like that. The Da Vinci code was too goddam popular so you had to run out to left field to see if your naked sister had any ideas about what to do. And I guess she did. But she’s crazy so, Steve, never EVER listen to her again.
Because this movie that she gave the new spin to? It sucks.
So after Back to the Future was the top grossing movie of 1985, you knew that the open-ending was going to go somewhere.
Where did it go? To the motherfucking FUTURE! Where they don’t need roads, where Hill Valley is, ever more, ghetto. Doc Brown brings Marty to the future to stop his son from getting arrested and being jailed for 15 years, which makes his daughter try and help him escape, causing her to go to jail for 20 years. So Marty takes care of that, but, then Marty discovers an almanac and Biff’s been following them around, and he sees the almanac and takes it back to his teenaged self in 1955 so that he can amass a fortune.
And this is unbeknownst to Doc and Marty until they get back to 1985 where Biff’s casino and hotel have been placed where the clock tower and his mother is married to him. As a result, they have to go back to 1955 to get the almanac to Biff to keep things in line.
But, right as Marty’s about to get into the Delorean, which had been having trouble keeping any date in its time-of-destination window that wasn’t in 1885, Doc and the time machine are zapped away into the past. And then it says, “To Be concluded…”
And it’s concluded in Back to the Future part III, where Marty meets up with Doc, who’s now a blacksmith in the Old West version of Hill Valley. There’s the TannenMcFly rivalry, now transposed onto Doc who might just get shot if something isn’t done about the 80 dollars he owes Biff’s relatives.
So they handle their shit and get Marty back into the normal 1985.
What’s done is done. They may even be making a Back to the Future 4, maybe with the train time machine, who knows.
Anyway, as singular movies, Parts II and III are lackluster attempts are regaining the magic of the first movie. There’s all the ironies and the origins and the pussy-McFly turned learned-McFly themes. It all begins to wear on you after awhile. Although it’s good that they chose to focus more on Doc in the third movie because another movie about Marty getting into some crazy hijinx and having to whisk away in some sort of kickass fashion had been getting old.
In fact, by the third film, the whole idea had gotten old. Biff’s an ass, Marty’s great, Doc’s crazy but a genius, we get it. They simply kept rehashing jokes from the first film, trying to constantly bank on its success–which they did. The concepts themselves were different enough, but time travel movies require a bit of explication and Doc with his “Great Scott’s” and his “Damn’s” and his insanity begins to get on my nerves.
What also kind of got at me was that, when 1985 Doc goes back into the past, and meets Clara, he has children. Isn’t he about 65 years old by this time? But then I remembered that, in the future, he went to a rejuvenation clinic that fixed him right up so that he can spread his seed…
And I wonder if Jules or Verne lived in Hill Valley–or if they weren’t allowed to have children… Or if Doc murdered them once they hit puberty.
But, at the end of the day, these films are a shitload of fun and ones that will shut the kids up for two hours at a time. I even got to go to Jamestown, California, where they filmed this movie. It’s an old west revival town up in some podunk part of the Sierra Nevadas. It was okay, I can’t recommend it, even if you’re a big fan of the films. Just go to Universal Studios Hollywood and oggle the clocktower if it’s still there (I doubt it.).
But I guess my recommendation is to not watch all three movies in a weekend or a day, because they’ll begin to blur together and become one 6 hour future film in the past.
So if you haven’t heard of this movie in the 23 years since its first release, you probably live under a rock.
And for those who need refreshing, let’s refresh: Marty McFly is a 17-year-old high school kid living in 1985. He’s smart and popular and funny and cool and he has a great girlfriend. He wears Calvin Klein underwear. He auditions with his band playing Huey Lewis and the News. He’s the all-around kid you wanna be.
So when he first goes over to see Doc Brown before school, you begin to wonder why he hangs out with this crazy scientist. And that is actually something that bothered me. It still kind of bothers that, although they first met in 1955 when Marty had traveled back in time on accident, they didn’t show them meeting for the first time when Marty was younger. That’s something I wonder about. What was that scene like?
And it probably doesn’t help that the DeLorean looks like a vehicle tricked out to allure kids into the pedophile’s lair, much like a model train set.
But that’s just a minor setback. Anywho, after proving to everyone how cool Marty is, and how shitty his family life is (alcoholic mother, pussy of a father, etc.), we see the unveiling of the time machine outside of the Twin Pines Mall. It’s one badass car, running on gas and plutonium stolen by Doc for some Libyan terrorists who he instead gave a box of junk. So they’re pissed.
And they come into the parking lot, guns ablazin’, ready to kill a motherfucker. They get Doc, shooting him multiple times, and then they go after Marty, whose only way to escape was in the time machine.
And so he hauls ass to get away, hitting 88 miles per hour, and blasting back into 1955, when Doc first came up with the idea for time travel.
From there, we get a hilarious chain of events that begins with him getting hit by the car that was supposed to hit his father. And then his mother becomes hot for her son. And so Marty’s main goal is making Lorraine and his father, George, fall in love some other way.
Which they do, everything is successful and Marty returns to the future.
What’s most interesting about the setpieces and the filmmaking is that it seems like Zemeckis, the director, approached 1985 as if it were a year in the past. He seems to have approached it in the same way they approached 1955: by going after all the stereotypes of what people were like then. So Marty wears Calvin Klein underwear, rides a skateboard, and the mall has destroyed the downtown.
And both time periods are impeccable. With one exception. 1955 was the height of the McCarthyism era, right? So why would any respectable person running for mayor call themselves Red? Is it to draw a parallel between the 1985 mayor whose name is Goldie? I couldn’t find any significance between the color names. Only that a guy named Red probably wouldn’t be elected to a mayor of a WASP, Mid-Western town in the 1950’s.
This is one of those classic movies that is so big and so outlandish that you have to respect it. It keeps you entertained through and through with its constant use of irony (ex: when Marty runs out of Young Lorraine’s house and her mother says, “If you ever have a kid like that, I’ll disown you.”), which also makes the laughs plentiful.
Of course, there are some obvious questions about time travel that were overlooked in the movie for the sheer ridiculousness of the whole idea of time travel. For instance, if, when Marty changed the chain of events and he comes back to a family that is happier and wealthier, wouldn’t his memories have changed too? At the least, he would have remembered getting that Bro-truck that he so lusted after in the first 1985.
But it’s easy to look over these things in the name of the movie. It does a great job entertaining the whole family with references to the fifties and the eighties alike. This was a great movie then, and it’s a great movie now… Though its sad that they’ve removed the kickass ride at Universal Studios in lieu of a brand new Simpsons ride.
And, seriously, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, see it. I can guarantee you it’ll be on TBS or USA within the next week.