Cinema Review: Lincoln

 

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Tony Kushner • PRO: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • DES: J. Rick Carter • CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

 

A film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg about an American president. If ever a film had Oscars written all over it, Lincoln is that film. And yet, for its epic scale and grand storytelling, Lincoln is just that – a story about Abraham Lincoln himself. Set during his final months of life, it focuses on Lincoln’s attempts to get the Thirteenth Amendment – the abolition of slavery – and to find a peaceful end to the American Civil War. Considering this is the first large-scale film about the life of Abraham Lincoln, a near-messianic figure in American politics, it’s clear that Spielberg and Day-Lewis are taking this very, very seriously.

 

Daniel Day-Lewis has never given anything less than 100% in any of the characters he’s played. Indeed, he’s a by-word for method acting and complete immersion in a role. Going in, you’d expect Day-Lewis to be all Oscar-reel footage – thundering and bellowing high-language maxims about the American way and so forth. Not so. Here, Day-Lewis has imbued Lincoln with a sense of decency, honesty and complete sincerity. Forwarding his argument with parables and anecdotes – often humorous – Day-Lewis’ Lincoln draws your attention with quiet charm and dignity. There is never a moment when you are not acutely aware of why Lincoln was so beloved. Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln is one of reservedness and small intricacies which make the character seem ever more real. Although the film is a biopic, the supporting cast are never lost in Day-Lewis’ shadow. The trio of political advisors hired to procure the votes for the Amendment – James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson – give the film a much-needed comedic pressure release without seeming forced. Spader comes to the fore as a swaggering Southern lobbyist who finds him brow-beating, cajoling and bribing his way through the political process. David Strathairn, Jared Harris and Jackie Earle Haley fill out smaller roles, but each give their performance the full weight. Jared Harris, in particular, as Ulysses S. Grant has a very small role in the film with minimal dialogue – but his physical presence on-screen very nearly takes the focus from Day-Lewis.

 

The same can be said for Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, the leader of the “radical” Republicans whom Lincoln finds himself at odds with. Jones gives his most animated performance in years as he spars in debate with Lee Pace’s out-and-out villain, Fernando Wood. Sally Field, playing Lincoln’s wife, balances against Lincoln’s stoic nature. In one particular scene, Lincoln comes close to tears as the two of them argue over their son’s enlistment in the Army. Field, in one single scene, reminds us why she won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, is the only stumbling block of the film’s impressive cast and performances. Playing the role of Lincoln’s son, Robert, Gordon-Levitt manfully tries to equal Day-Lewis in their scenes together, however their on-screen relationship comes off as flat and doesn’t materialise as well as others. It’s a small complaint as Gordon-Levitt has minimal screen time and the rest of the performances of the film are nothing short of exemplary.

 

Spielberg skilfully directs Lincoln and gives each segment its due and proper attention, without lingering too long on any one plot point. The film has the brisk pace of a West Wing episode and manages to capture the political process in a somewhat idealised light. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, as always, is incredible. Each scene could easily be mistaken for an oil painting, both in terms of lighting design, set design and the colour tones used. Tony Kushner’s script is careful not to slip into drawn-out set pieces. As mentioned, the film never sags or loses a sense of pace, despite its impressive running length. John Williams’ score, naturally, adds to the grandeur of the whole film without being overbearing – as is often an issue with his work. Here, it’s understated and nuanced, much like Day-Lewis’ fantastic performance. In all, Lincoln is a smart, well-paced historical drama that is deserving of its accolades. Day-Lewis delivers a career highlight and Spielberg continues to demonstrate why he is one of the best directors in American cinema.

Brian Lloyd

 

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

151 mins

Lincoln is released on 25th January 2013

Lincoln – Official Website

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Irish interest among BAFTA nominations

The shortlist for this year’s Bafta Film Awards have been announced in London.

Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic Lincoln  leads the way with 10 nominations. Among them is Daniel Day-Lewis, who has been nominated for the Best Actor award for his central performance.

Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths has been nominated in the Outstanding British Film category.

Seamus McGarvey has been nominated for his cinematography work on Anna Karenina.

Belfast-based duo Kris Kelly (director) and Evelyn McGrath (writer) have also been nominated for their short animation Here to Fall’.

Eamonn O’Neill has also been nominated for Best short animation for his short I’m Fine Thanks.

Click here for the full list of nominations for the EE British Academy Film Awards, which will take place on Sunday, 10th February at London’s Royal Opera House.

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Médecins Sans Frontières Announce Details of First Ever MSF Ireland Week

(Daniel Day-Lewis)

A cholera tent roadshow, the premiere of a documentary narrated by Daniel Day-Lewis, and a photo exhibition by award-winning Irish film-maker Michael Lavelle are just some of the highlights of the first ever MSF Ireland Week, which will run from 23rd to 30th September 2012.

 

The week is being organised by the Irish office of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), a medical humanitarian organisation that provides independent medical aid to victims of war, disasters and disease outbreaks in nearly 70 countries throughout the world.

 

The programme of events for the week was officially launched by Jane-Ann McKenna, Head of MSF Ireland with Gabriel Fitzpatrick and Mark Campbell, two Irish doctors who have volunteered with MSF in the past.  Speaking at the launch, Ms. McKenna said the aim of the week is to highlight the contribution Irish volunteers and donors make to MSF’s international work.

 

“Volunteers from right across Ireland are heavily involved in the work of MSF overseas,” she said.  “At present, for example, we have volunteers from Tipperary, Galway and Longford working on missions in Chad, Congo and Pakistan, while others have just recently returned from South Sudan and Afghanistan.

 

“MSF works principally in emergency situations, taking action quickly in order to save lives.  The Irish office has been in operation since 2006, and we are providing crucial support to MSF’s international work, both in terms of fundraising and volunteers.  With MSF Ireland Week, we’re aiming to showcase the work of our volunteers and also to encourage the general public to find out more about what we do.”

 

Programme of Events

One of the highlights of MSF Ireland Week will be a photography exhibition featuring photos taken by award-winning Irish film-maker Michael Lavelle (best known for his work on the hit film ‘His and Hers’) during his visit to an MSF clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The ‘Taking Action. Saving Lives’ exhibition will run in the Powerscourt Centre and Fixx Coffeehouse in Dublin, and photographs of Irish MSF volunteers will also be on display.  The exhibition will be officially opened by popular columnist Roisin Ingle at a public event in the Powerscourt Centre this coming Sunday (23.09.12) at 12 noon.

 

Another highlight of MSF Ireland Week will be the Irish premiere of ‘Access to the Danger Zone’, a new documentary, narrated by Daniel Day-Lewis, which follows the work of MSF in Kenya, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  President Michael D. Higgins will be the guest of honour at the premiere screening next Wednesday (26.09.12).

 

Throughout the week, members of the public will have an opportunity to experience firsthand the type of work MSF does overseas by visiting a simulated cholera treatment centre.  A cholera tent – a replica of those usedin real-life cholera outbreaks, such as those that occurred recently in Haiti, Pakistan and Zimbabwe – will be pitched in various locations throughout the country, including Dublin city centre, Blanchardstown, Cork and Galway.  Treatment beds and equipment will be on display, along with iPads on which visitors canengage with video footage from MSF projects around the world.

 

A free public screening of ‘Living in Emergency’, an award-winning documentary filmed in the war-zones of Liberia and Congo, will also take place as part of the week, next Tuesday (23.09.12) at The Light House Cinema in Dublin at 7pm.

 

“We’re hoping to show Irish people that they can contribute directly to helping people in areas of extreme crisis,” said Jane-Ann McKenna.  “We hear daily about the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, and famine and disease outbreaks in Chad and Niger.  These are the really urgent, challenging situations where MSF is one of the few organisations able to reach people and provide life-saving aid.  By donating to MSF or by volunteering with us, Irish people can provide direct assistance to those who need it most.”

 

Testimony from a Volunteer

Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick, who is originally from Monaghan and now lives in Dublin, spoke about his own experiences of volunteering with MSF at today’s launch.

 

“I spent seven months in Chad, where I experienced 50-degree heat and very basic conditions, while being surrounded by severe famine and simmering civil war.  While I was there, there was a cholera outbreak, and I will never forget the fear this engendered in the local people.  You could see it in their eyes.  Cholera had hit the same area a few years previously, and they remembered the toll it had taken as it spread.  On this occasion, however, MSF’s work prevented it from becoming a full-blown epidemic.

 

“I also worked a lot with malnourished children, helping them to regain their health.  Working on nutrition is particularly rewarding because you get the opportunity to bring children back from the brink of death.  There was an 18 per cent per week mortality rate for under-fives when I began working in Chad; this had dropped to three per cent by the end of my time there.”

 

Dr. Fitzpatrick is one of the Irish volunteers featured in the ‘Taking Action.  Saving Lives’ photography exhibition, which is running throughout MSF Ireland Week.

For full details of the programme of events for the week, go to www.msf.ie or www.facebook.com/MSFIrelandWeek.

http://youtu.be/XjZyr1P6g4g

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Jim Sheridan: In Focus

The IFI celebrates Jim Sheridan’s career with Jim Sheridan: In Focus, a season screening his key films and featuring special guest appearances from the director and many of his collaborators including Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh O’Connor, Brenda Fricker, Peter Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan.

The IFI will present a wide-ranging season of the work of one of the key figures in contemporary Irish film – director, actor, producer and writer Jim Sheridan. Sheridan is responsible for many of the most popular and critically acclaimed films of the past twenty years. The IFI’s retrospective focuses on eight key films since he burst on to the international scene with his stunning debut My Left Foot.

For a full line-up visit www.ifi.ie

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Nine

Nine

DIR: Rob Marshall • WRI: Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella • PRO: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt, Rob Marshall, Harvey Weinstein • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Claire Simpson, Wyatt Smith • DES: John Myhre • CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz

Nine is a film based on Federico Fellini’s autobiographical film 8 1/2 (1963), and on the 1982 Tony award-winning musical, Nine, book by Arthur Kopit, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, adaptation from the Italian by Mario Fratti. It is the story of Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis). He has recently turned forty and is facing a mid-life-crisis with his willingness to be a professional and creative director and a romantic to his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) and his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz). The setting is Rome in 1965.

Judi Dench plays Lilli, Guido’s costume designer. She tells Guido before he goes to a press conference to do what he does best – ‘Lie, lie for Italia’. Dench appears in a flashback sequence on stage when Guido was a boy singing ‘Folies Bergère’. Day-Lewis appears above the stage in a touching scene of nostalgia. Kate Hudson has a cameo as a young and foxy Vogue columnist, Stephanie. She remarks to Guido, that every frame in his films is like a postcard. Grammy-nominated singer Fergie appears in some musical sequences as the irresistible Saraghina. She gives a wonderful performance of ‘Be Italian’ – The best song in the film. Nicole Kidman is the beautiful movie star Claudia, an old flame of Guido’s. Penélope Cruz has a most erotic rendition of ‘A Call from the Vatican’. It will raise a few eyebrows over the decision of a 12A rating. Carla wants to spend more time with Guido, but he is preoccupied with many other things.

Daniel Day-Lewis shines as always. He really gets into the character of Guido with his mannerisms and dialogue. Marion Cotillard adds more emotional core to the film with her renditions of ‘My Husband Makes Movies’ and ‘Take It All’. In a key scene Luisa says to Guido: ‘Thank you for reminding me I’m not special. You don’t even see what you do to me. Even the moments I think are ours, it’s just… you work to get what you want…’

There are several scenes in black and white beautifully photographed by Dion Beebe – flashbacks of Guido’s childhood in a Catholic school in which he first discovers women and also some of the music sequences. Guido like many artists is flawed and trying to find a way to balance his job and love life, this proves very difficult for him. As in any musical the characters express their anxieties though song and it works well.

Rob Marshall is the director and co-choreographer. He made his name with the smash hit Chicago back in 2002. Marshall has a style that is impressive on the musical front, however, it is lacking in the substance of its characters. Michael Tolkin and late Anthony Minghella, to whom this film is dedicated, wrote the screenplay.

The musical sequences are mostly performed on a sound stage, with flashy costumes. The music is enjoyable and John DeLuca and Rob Marshall excellently choreograph the dancing. It is what it is: a musical, and it succeeds on that level. But the all-star cast overwhelms the picture, to the degree that it feels like a guest list. Kidman, Dench and Cotillard all have very little screen time. Cotillard was also underwritten earlier this year in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. Her talent deserves more. If her character had more substance, her relationship with Day-Lewis, would have been more believable. Sophia Loren appears in a cameo to Guido as his dead mother, it will always spark the reaction from the audience that is ‘Look, there’s Sophia Loren’. All and all it keeps you interested and is worth recommending with some reservations.

Peter Larkin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Nine is released on 25 Dec 2009

Nine – Official Website

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There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Blood

DIR/WRI: Paul Thomas Anderson • PRO: Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Dylan Tichenor • DES: Jack Fisk • CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier

Something strange has been happening to US cinema as of late. At some point towards the end of last year, Hollywood remembered how to make great films. In the past few months we’ve been treated to some excellent work from all ends of the cinematic spectrum. Juno has shown that you don’t need big stars to make a successful comedy, while on a bigger budget, Cloverfield has offered the YouTube generation their own Star Wars experience. Meanwhile, The Assassination of Jesse James and the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men have legitimised the western for the 21st Century and given the Oscars their best selection in years. There Will Be Blood, the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson (his first in five years) sits comfortably alongside the latter two, but may outshine both of them. Already hailed as the best film of last year by countless American critics, showered with awards, and a solid bet for at least one Oscar, the film arrives here with a considerable burden of expectation. That some critics have compared it to Citizen Kane should be indication enough of the film’s pedigree.

It’s not a bad comparison – a lengthy, complex and rich American epic set in the early 20th Century, There Will Be Blood is pure cinema, but at the same time genuinely unlike anything you will have ever seen before. An astonishing opening sequence sets the tone – essentially, it is an eleven-minute silent masterpiece unto itself, as we witness Anderson’s protagonist Daniel Plainview searching for silver. Entirely free of dialogue, the sequence is instead imbued with a sense of dread and power by Johnny Greenwood’s remarkable score. Following Plainview as he builds his oil business, at the cost of the life of one of his workers, it is nearly a quarter of an hour before he opens his mouth; but when he does, what a voice it is. As Plainview, Daniel Day- Lewis gives a towering performance that should go down as one of the finest in cinema history. Even by Day-Lewis’s impeccable standards, Plainview is an extraordinary creation; a man who claims to value family but uses his adopted son as a sales pitch. A man who hates everyone, yet demands their attention, be it in the form of love, respect or fear. A man whose desire for power extends beyond oil, beyond wealth and beyond reason, he is rarely anything less than pure evil, but he avoids caricature. The plot, and the outside world, run alongside Plainview, occasionally interfering with his plans but never stopping him from getting what he wants. Plainview is not merely the subject of the film, he is the film.

By 1911, Plainview has established himself as a wealthy, charismatic entrepreneur, and has moved into the oil business with his adopted son H.W. as his partner. After a tip from a local, Plainview arrives at a small town called Little Boston, and begins buying land in order to drill the oil that lies underneath it. There, he is met with little opposition except for Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). Sunday, whose family own a crucial piece of land, is a teenage preacher who wants Plainview to pay part of the oil money towards his church. How the relationship between the two develops alongside the creation of 20th Century American capitalism is the driving force behind one of the most vital, bold and fascinating films of recent years. Alongside Day-Lewis, Paul Dano is not to be overlooked; in a terrific breakthrough performance, he infuses his scrawny teenage frame with fiery intensity whilst in his church, and acts as a cold, calm foil to Plainview’s bellowing outside of it. The two characters show the ugly side of two principles on which modern America was built; capitalism and religion, and the two’s uneasy relationship with another. For Sunday, commerce is a means for him to spread his message, while for Plainview, religion is simply another sales tool. It’s a compelling, darkly humorous competition.

Anderson, best known for his superb ensemble pieces Magnolia and Boogie Nights, is on new territory here. While there are occasional similarities with his earlier work – the sudden, shocking burst of violence recalls the climax of Boogie Nights for example – this is a far more mature and concentrated work. The self-conscious cleverness which accompanied Magnolia’s key moments is entirely absent here – there’s no raining frogs, no cast sing-along. Instead, There Will Be Blood offers filmmaking and storytelling in the purest, most electrifying form possible, and positions Anderson as one of the most fascinating directors working today. It’s a tough film, and one that values character over plot, but rewards attention and suggests that further viewings are required to understand all of its nuances and themes.

Nothing more clearly illustrates the film’s difficult, divisive qualities than its ending. Though it deals with familiar themes – the dark side of the American dream, a man driven mad by greed – there is nothing about the film that treads on traditional narrative ground. Just as the wordless opening sequence catches you off guard, so does Anderson’s earth-shattering climax, as Plainview mutates into a new kind of monster. It’s a truly surprising, memorable moment, complete with a catchphrase (‘I drink your milkshake!’) that has already earned the film infamy in the States. Rest assured, there’s truth in the title.

A truly staggering work, There Will Be Blood is a film loaded with fascinating contradictions. Visually, it’s stunning, Anderson painting grimy but beautiful landscapes. Greenwood’s score varies from dominating industrious noise one minute to graceful classicism the next. The performances, while there may not be many of them (Plainview is such an all-consuming figure that there are few speaking parts besides him and Sunday) are uniformly superb. And the screenplay feels like a vast epic, despite the film only really focusing on one man, who, at the heart of it all, has a character that is made up of some of the biggest contradictions of all. It’s a fascinating, challenging masterpiece, and essential viewing for anyone serious about the art of film.

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