Lincoln and This is 40

Daniel Day Lewis as honest Abe

Daniel Day Lewis as honest Abe

Like Lincoln himself, Steven Spielberg’s film of the same name is modest and measured throughout its lengthy running time. Spielberg forgoes (not completely but more than one would expect) his penchant to over-sentimentalize. One gets a palpable sense of a time and a place that was infinitely quieter and with significantly less artificial light (DP Janusz Kaminski shoots in extremely low light rooms with beautiful results). Couple this long, lost environment with the thoughtful, reserved manner of Lincoln himself and you get a movie that dares the audience to spend most of the time slightly leaning foreword to hear and absorb what unfolds. Certainly there are loud moments when the politicians get tangled in fights on the House of Representatives floor but my favorite take-away from this handsomely mounted production is its deliberate quietness. Much like John Ford’s My Darling Clementine, Lincoln reminds the viewer that we once lived in cities and towns that were audibly less busy.

Daniel Day Lewis is Lincoln. The flat, Midwestern voice. The fragile way he carries his tall frame. His ability to politely counter those who question his motives. His love of telling stories. It’s a mesmerizing performance that carries the film with grace and ease. The rest of the large cast shine as well. Only Joesph Gorden-Levitt seems to have been given the least to work with and his role as Lincoln’s oldest son should have been either expanded or taken out completely as it never feels satisfying or important to the overall story. All of the actors are given terrific dialogue that is at once colloquial, bristling and heartfelt  courtesy of screenwriting heavyweight Tony Kushner.

The story of how Lincoln quietly went about the seemingly impossible task of securing votes to get the 13th amendment passed while simultaneously trying to bring an end to the civil war is compelling stuff. Lincoln was a shrewd politician; always willing to compromise and manipulate others to secure his ends. In these fiscal-cliff-times we live in it is all the more enlightening/sad/surprising/not-so-surprising that after 147 years, politics is politics now and forever. Highly recommended.

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Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are pretty to look at and that is about it

Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 is a lazy, shallow and only occasionally funny film. Unlike some of his earlier films that were more successful at balancing laughs and relationship drama (Knocked Up), This Is 40 never finds its footing and suffers from a screenplay that feels like a first draft. That is all the more surprising as Apatow himself considers this to be his most personal film. While he does touch briefly on some of the funny and familiar earmarks of being a couple in their 40’s, it never finds an emotional core. Though most of the blame lies at Apatow’s feet, it doesn’t help that the film’s two leads (Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann) are not carry-the-film-type actors and their slightness as actors only amplify the weakness of Apatow’s script. Mann in particular has a voice and a delivery that is flat and grating over time. The problems of this married couple are of the most superficial variety and as the film progresses your (hoped for) sympathies are reduced to the point that you will wish real problems upon them. Apatow hopes that showing the couple’s daughter curse uncontrollably or showing an 80’s-style montage of our featured couple getting high will distract you from the fact that we really don’t know why we are supposed to care for these spoiled, immature people. The few laughs we do get (Melissa McCarthy gets to improvise an angry scene that is memorable) are scattered about and many of them feel forced (when all else fails reach for the boobs, vagina and penis jokes). None of these few and far between laughs will soften the resentment you will feel towards its over-2 hour running time. The Apatow movie formula has officially become stale. Not recommended.

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