Friday, May 10, 2013

Sundry Odds and Ends: Disturbing Other People Edition

353) Lincoln (2012) Dir: Steven Spielberg Date Released: November 9, 2012 Date Seen: November 9, 2012 Rating: 4/5

361) The Golden Child (1986) Dir: Michael Ritchie Date Released: December 12, 1986 Date Seen: November 11, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

363) Skyfall (2012) Dir: Sam Mendes Date Released: November 9, 2012 Date Seen: November 14, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Lincoln: I'm not fond of one or two would-be iconic scenes in this film, particularly the opening, the ending, and the battlefield survey. I'm also not nuts about Sally Field's Missus Lincoln subplot (gratingly shrill, though that's her role). But otherwise, I was drawn to Lincoln because it's a superior legislative drama, and I love legislative dramas (Advise and Consent!). Part of this is a matter of direction, scripting, and virtuosic acting, especially Tommy Lee Jones and Daniel Day-Lewis. But I'm also struck by screenwriter Tony Kushner's idol worship. To Kushner, the film's subjects were flawed men that, to some extent, knew they were carrying the burden of change.They knew that they needed to resort to rigorous politicking if they wanted to make a difference. I like to imagine Kushner's own activism influenced the way he shows characters like Jones's Thaddeus Stevens or Fields's Mary Todd Lincoln heroically making ethical compromises for their own personal reasons. If activism is going to work, everyone has got to find their reasons, and they do, in the end. 

Kushner was smart to narrow the scope of his drama so that it mainly concerns the steps needed to pass the 13th amendment and the people that took those steps. This means Lincoln is almost exclusively about white people, which is theoretically distressing, but works practically sincethese men consider slavery in a conceptual light. Sure, they all have slaves, and in Stevens's exceptional case, slaves are more than just property. But the consequences of the legislators' actions are abstracted to the point where it's all about bodies on a battlefield, visitors in a gallery, and votes that need buying. I'm most comfortable with Kushner's approach when Lincoln is all about buying allegiances because that's when the film's drama is most dynamic. But I'll probably rewatch this in a year or three and not have any reservations.

The Golden Child: is boring. Seriously, this movie is just boilerplate "THUH CHOSEN ONE" bullshit with one or two good laughs, and a lot of racist horse puckey. Fuck this movie.

Skyfall: I mostly enjoyed the new Bond movie, though it's basically unambitious. I really don't like that this is a movie, to use a Sam C. Mac-ism, that is never not about what it's about. Here is a story about why James Bond is still relevant today, which is just unnecessary after Martin Campbell trod similar territory in both GoldenEye and Casino Royale

So yes, I loved the cinematography, and really dug some the dialogue, and fight scenes. But I also couldn't stand the film's anti-camp stance. This, more than any other superficially similar points of comparison, is why the film is kind of like Christopher Nolan and David Goyer's Batman: flamboyance is bad! A key example of this: Bond does not have any fancy gadgets here, and is even told point-blank he doesn't need any. He gets a gun with a fancy fingerprint ID mechanism built into it, and a homing device. He's James Bond: he doesn't need any other tchatchkes, haw haw! Craig's Bond is sleek, and modern, and sexy, get it, do you see how hard we work to establish what you, the viewer are supposed to think?! IT'S NOT EVEN SUBTEXT, IT'S TEXT, UGH. 

I don't think I'd mind this generic revisionism if Javier Bardem's sexually ambiguous (ie: probably gay), and poorly conceived villain didn't reveal just how thin the film's cool attitude is. Bardem hits on Bond, and he retorts by teasing his captor--maybe he too has had gay sex, how do you know he hasn't, tough guy, HM?! What is the point of this banter if not to establish the fact that Bond needs to be contemporary, but classic, stoic and unphased at the thought of GAY-ness. It's kind of a revealing moment, and it really bugs me, possibly because many superhero comics are likewise aesthetically strait-jacketed. Then again, I don't need Pedro Almodovar to make Daredevil: Man Without Fear instead of Joe Carnahan, though that'd work. I just want a big-budget action movie made by people that instinctively want to let their freak flags fly.*

*Note: is this still a phrase people use?

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