Andrew Hates… LINCOLN

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Dir: Steven Spielberg, 2013

In January 1865, Abraham Lincoln strives to push through the 13th Amendment, eradicating all slavery on American soil. On the other hand, the Civil War is reaching its conclusion and if peace is bartered before the Amendment passes, the president fears that slavery will never end. Lincoln must obtain sufficient votes from a reluctant congress whilst struggling with the decision of ending the war early and saving thousands of lives or abolishing slavery forever.

‘The 13th Amendment’. That’s what this film should have been called. Granted, not the most emphatic of movie titles and not as likely to draw in as many crowds as the moniker of Honest Abe but it certainly would have been more apt.

By now, Daniel Day-Lewis’ chameleon-esque immersion into his roles goes without saying as Mr. Method vies for his third Best Actor trophy from the Academy and it is fair to say that no-one else could have captured the peculiar mannerisms, the vibrant passion nor the overall likeness of the 16th president of the United States. However, Abraham Lincoln is a tertiary character in this film to the events which Spielberg exhibits. This is no biopic in which we explore the nature of a man who altered America for the better as much as an overview of each and every cog that turned to cure the United States of slavery and oppression. Satisfactory, then, that the film works better this way.

If there is a narrative centre through which we view Lincoln, it is via Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, a crusader in the fight against slavery. Jones’ power and fervency drives the film forward as it briskly sails through its 150-minute running time. While some supporting actors in the form of Jones, David Strathairn and James Spader compliment the film, the inclusion of Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and many others are mere distractions in a cast that is too renowned for its own benefit.

Although Spielberg does his usual amount of dabbling in sanctimony, the payoff is vindicated by the subject matter. Unfortunately, it is in the last four minutes of the film where Spielberg descends into formulaic biopic territory that destroys the reputable approach he chose to convey, not so much tugging at heartstrings as opposed to banging the emotional drum.

Despite these shortcomings and for the better part, Lincoln does prove to be Spielberg’s most well-executed film in many years, owing its success to a stunning script from Tony Kushner that appears to pitch The West Wing back a century and a mostly-determined cast of actors. It’s a shame that with a little more focus, Lincoln could have been one for the ages.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here

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Andrew Hates… PREMIUM RUSH

Premium Rush

Dir: David Koepp, 2012

Wilee is the best bicycle messenger New York City has ever known. However, his life is suddenly put in danger as he is relentlessly pursued across Manhattan by a crooked cop who will stop at nothing to retrieve the valuable envelope he is to deliver in less than two hours.

Premium Rush is essentially a love letter to bicycles. That may sound rather dim-witted but, in fact, is the most intelligent and innovative weapon the film has in its arsenal. A pedestrian’s nightmare, these extremist bike couriers that writer-director David Koepp chooses to focus on are the blood pumping through the veins of the New York City streets. Seen but unseen, they’re gone in the blink of an eye whether swerving through traffic or hopping over whatever obstruction might be foolish enough to get in their way.

Foot chases are gruelling and car chases messy but the vicious and wincing pursuits witnessed in Premium Rush confirm the only match for a bike is another bike. Or in some cases, a lens, with Koepp’s movements flowing freely and as slick as the near-suicidal cyclists he tails through the city streets. The CGI is glossy and elegant, reminiscent of this century’s fondness for close or stylised visuals (Fight Club, Zombieland) and the bicycle-mounted cameras improve the rollercoaster ride. Hollywood’s golden boy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is ideal as the passionate daredevil that graces the screen with both nobility and wit whilst Michael Shannon is menacing as always, staying on the working class side of villainy rather than wielding a white cat. That being said, neither the characters nor the story are fleshed out to perfection but all we need to know is these people fear the prospect of becoming a desk jockey more so than death. Riding is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. Anything divulged further just detracts from the adrenaline-laced 90 minutes we crave to see and believe me, of that there is plenty. Even a behind-the-scenes clip of Gordon-Levitt’s failed stunt injury (which required thirty-one stitches) is included in a post-credits scene.

The stereotypical chase movie that involves obstacles, righteous missions and countdown timers are inexplicably tiresome. Premium Rush delivers the same old formula with bursts of creativity, exhilaration and sheer entertainment. What many could simply dismiss as New York from the point of view of a bicycle may prove to be this year’s dark horse for the action genre.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here

Andrew Hates… THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

The Dark Knight Rises

Dir: Christopher Nolan, 2012

After eight years of exile following the demise of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne is drawn back into his cowl and cape when a threatening force, known only as Bane, vies to destroy Gotham City and finish the work of his late master, Ra’s al Ghul of the League of Shadows.

Nolan has always decorated his Batman trilogy with overtones of terrorism and The Dark Knight Rises is the most evident example. Bane’s airplane heist has eerie feels of 9/11 to it and the overthrowing of the stock exchange exaggerates but exemplifies current economic concerns. However, Nolan’s dabbling in neo-realism detracts from the overall purpose of a Batman film. The characters (Batman included), the plot and the action are all cast aside in favour of Nolan’s desire to film “scenes”. In this, The Dark Knight Rises is a spectacular failure as a Batman film.

The narrative is totally absent, driven by characters that make absurd decisions based upon scarcely-formulated motives. The piecing together of certain truths of identity are ludicrous, Batman’s trusting of morally ambiguous characters reflects idiocy upon the titular hero and to top it off, Bane sounding like an Englishman underwater does not do his supposedly villainous presence any favours. The Joker was entertaining, devilish and outright maniacal, played to perfection by the late Heath Ledger. Bane’s role is just about as compelling as an empty book.

Nolan’s addiction to gathering ensemble casts works against him now more than ever. The Dark Knight Rises is littered with arbitrary characters from Marion Cotilliard’s pointless contribution to Anne Hathaway’s muddled portrayal of Catwoman. Furthermore, the inclusion of a character arc for Matthew Modine’s deputy commissioner is preposterous and at a running length of 164 minutes, seems like an appendage we could have done without. Frustratingly, Nolan eliminates key characters to focus on the tertiary ones. Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon is predominantly confined to a hospital bed and Michael Caine, who is at a near-career best here, is withdrawn after an hour, in an act completely out of character.

As the trilogy has gone on, the story has become less and less about Bruce Wayne. Batman Begins reintroduced us to a character overcome with fear, anger and guilt who found the only way to stifle those emotions was to channel them into vigilantism. After a sequel burdened with an overabundance of Ledger due to his tragic demise, Nolan’s trilogy-closer appears as more of a resignation from Batman than a genuine pieces-form-the-whole feature film. The aspiration to warrant his films Schumacher-proof (a reason for the reboots in the first place) leave a dull, motionless, disaster of a movie that may, in time, prove to have been as fatal to the Caped Crusader as 1997’s Batman & Robin was. One can only hope not.

★ ☆

Watch the trailer here

Andrew Hates… LOOPER

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Dir: Rian Johnson, 2012

By 2074, time travel has been invented and outlawed. With the disposal of corpses near-impossible due to DNA tracking, the mafia secretly sends people they went killed back to 2042, where assassins known as ‘loopers’ finish the job. Joe, one of the most prolific loopers in employ, accidentally lets his target escape after realising his target is his future self. On the run, Joe must find his older self and terminate him and evade his sadistic employers until he does so.

Looper is the latest in a series of films with interesting theories that unfortunately are too convoluted for their own good. The laws of physics are strict when it comes to the impossibility of time travel and Johnson enforces them only when it benefits his film. A sequence involving an on the-run loop suffering deformities inflicted on his past self is creative and chilling in its practicality and yet the simple rule of the butterfly effect isn’t taken into account.

Johnson tries to avoid explaining his intricacy as much as he can, even giving Willis the line of “I don’t want to talk about time travel because we’ll be here all day”, which is an all too convenient cop-out for the lone writer/director. This would be an acceptable diversion if Johnson chose to spend his time fleshing out the characters rather than including arbitrary subplots of telekinesis, narcotics and a farmhouse retreat that dwells far too long.

However amateur the content its presentation is lush with Johnson’s vision of the future pleasantly simple. There are no ambitious Back to the Future-style gadgets nor Minority Report-class weapons. 2044 Kansas may look a little brighter but its core is stricken with socio-economic collapse and gangland crime. Even the blunderbusses the loopers use on their victims are firearms that have been considered obsolete since the 17th century.

In terms of casting, Johnson reunites with his (and Hollywood’s current) golden boy JGL but his forged appearance in the film bundles any chance of a reasonable lead performance. Interestingly enough, for an actor whose placement demanded Gordon-Levitt to be swathed in prosthetics, Bruce Willis is remarkably underutilised, instead portraying a voiceless background assassin – a Terminator without the dread or urgency. Emily Blunt rounds out the leading trio in a particularly superfluous role for an actress of her calibre. All in all, Johnson’s morally ambiguous characters demand no emotional reaction from the viewers but worst of all, don’t demand interest.

Rian Johnson’s endeavour in Hollywood box office has become a financial success due to the present popularity of his friend Gordon-Levitt and the attention of Willis but feels like it belongs as a twenty-minute episode of The Twilight Zone. Looper may pique your curiosity but it rarely holds your attention on its painfully dull journey to an anticlimax that will have audiences shrugging.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here