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HAT’S ENTERTAINMENT
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a film that has been eagerly awaited for years. At one point, it seemed in jeopardy that it would ever get made but it’s out at last. This biopic, which focuses on the 16th president’s attempt to get the abolition of slavery passed into law while resolving the bitter Civil War, shows off some of the director’s most assured and thoughtful work. Rather than take the usual route of cramming in the entire life of President Lincoln into one film, Spielberg decides to focus on this very pivotal part of US history and it pays off well. He handles the various machinations that Lincoln and the rest of his party have to go through to get the bill passed with rare skill and deftness. Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant in the title role, with an unusually measured and human performance and deserves the various gongs he has already received. He inhabits the part in a way that you can’t really imagine anyone else doing. If he doesn’t win an Oscar, I’ll eat my stovepipe hat. But it would be remiss of me to neglect to mention the rest of the cast. Tommy Lee Jones as the wonderfully named Senator Thaddeus Stevens, fellow abolitionist, and Jared Harris as Yankee general and future US President Ulysses Grant, are just two of the standout members of the cast. Lee Jones is suitably irascible and Harris shows why he is becoming one of the most interesting character actors of modern TV and film. Lincoln has a running time of two and a half hours and at no point does it drag or outstay its welcome. It’s not perfect by any means: it may have been a more dramatic conclusion if it had ended when the bill becomes law rather than showing us the death of Lincoln and sometimes you wonder if Lincoln really did speak in aphorisms like he chooses to sometimes here. But these are minor quibbles: Spielberg and production designer Rick Carter have created a painterly 1860s America, beautiful on screen. But the beauty is tempered by real human tragedy like the casualties of the Civil War, an event which drove a poisonous spike through the heart of America. It is impressive that, despite the fact that Steven Spielberg has making films for five decades now, he is still able to impress with something as weighty, as light-fingered and as erudite as Lincoln. Lincoln is a bold and well-made look at one of the most important figures and periods in American history…

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GOOD DETECTIVE WORK

This week sees the release in the UK of The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s first adaptation of Herge’s comic work. This is a film that has been in the planning stages for a number of years but even Herge, when he was alive, apparently thought Spielberg would be the perfect choice to bring his boy reporter and dog Snowy to the big screen. Tintin was created using motion capture technology, a technique that has led to the films made with it previously populated with characters with dead, creepy eyes. I am glad to say that Weta digital have avoided this pitfall here, creating characters who are warm and alive on screen. The 3D is used intelligently and because it’s a light film, it also means that the action is easy to follow unlike many other 3D productions in live action that have been released this year (step forward Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). The Adventures of Tintin manages to distill the fun and the heart of Herge’s illustrated work, harking back to the most fun elements of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films and synthesising a genuinely entertaining adventure story. This film takes three of Herge’s adventures (Secret of The Unicorn, Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Crab With The Golden Claws) and conflates them into a single story. So Tintin has to find the clues to piece together a mystery that brings together Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the evil Sakharine (voiced by Bond himself Daniel Craig) and a replica of a galleon, the Unicorn, that holds the key to the whole affair. Bumbling police officers The Thompson Twins are played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost here. Adventures of Tintin is a very enjoyable pulp adventure movie, made by two of the best practitioners in the business and the script, by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish strikes just the right balance to keep kids amused while offering enough for adults to stay interested. Ironically the film feels like a very British affair, perhaps thanks to the actors and the screenwriters. This film deserves to be a huge worldwide hit and hopefully through Spielberg and Jackson having their names on this, this will charm American audiences the way it has done in the UK. Steven Spielberg still has the magic touch…

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BACK TO THE FUTURE
Summer 2011 has been an odd summer with some of the tentpole movies disappointing. So it’s heartening to watch a film like Super 8 from director JJ Abrams. A pastiche of/ tribute to Spielberg and Dante’s output from the 1980s, Super 8 is set in small-town Ohio in 1979. It deals with a group of kids, led by Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) determined to make a horror film using their super 8 camera. But the twist is that something strange has happened to the town, with a real monster living there. Abrams has made no secret of his love for 1980s films and this comes out in Super 8, which is shot like a Spielberg film with direction that feels like anathema to 2011 cinema. Spielberg is even producer on Super 8 and it has a very anachronistic feel. And I mean that in a positive way as editing is more measured than you get these days and directing is very deliberate. The kids are all very good actors especially Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) and Courtney, managing to be sympathetic to the audience and avoiding the sort of maudlin schmaltz that could make Super 8 unwatchable. Abrams shows that he is probably one of the best mainstream Hollywood directors currently working and a spiritual successor to Spielberg. It’s not perfect by any means as the last act falls a little bit flat and the monster looks like nearly all of Abrams’ on-screen horrors. But its flaws are not enough to prevent me from recommending it as perhaps the most fun you’ll have all summer at the cinema. Super 8 is highly recommended…


SMART AS A WHIP
I have been deliberately waiting until today to post this review of Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull. I went to see it at a press screening at Odeon West End on Tuesday night but didn’t want to put a review up in case I put some spoilers in. So since it opens everywhere (including Venus and Mars:) I thought it would be safe to do this now. Apologies if this review isn’t as succinct and to the point as other film reviews I have put up but this film has a lot more resonance than anything I’ve seen in the last few years. I loved Indiana Jones as a kid: I remember being 8 years old and going to see Raiders of The Lost Ark at the cinema. Temple of Doom was a little disappointing but The Last Crusade was a fantastic romp and Connery had great chemistry with Ford. So the character was left with only the Young Indiana Jones TV series (which was also a lot of fun) and the occasional rather dull comic series. Spielberg, Lucas and Ford had discussed returning to the character for years and they brought in screenwriters like Frank Darabont and M. Night Shymalan but they just couldn’t agree. In the meantime, Lucas brought out his rather misconceived Star Wars prequels and Spielberg went in a different direction, proving he could tackle serious filmmaking with projects like Munich and Schindler’s List. But about two years ago, the trio announced that it was definitely on. So I watched and waited, trying not to get my hopes up too much because 19 years is a hell of a long time between films and there’s no guarantee that the chemistry/ synchronicity would still be there. Just look at Godfather Part III if you don’t believe me. Anyway, I read some of the features about the film that have run in the last year but they didn’t reveal a great deal about it. Then last week I got wind of a press screening happening on Tuesday so I asked and was lucky enough to get tickets.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is set in 1957, 19 years after The Last Crusade. I admit that, even at the opening credits, I did feel a slight tinge of excitement. The film opens with a great set piece: a group of 1950s teenagers race a US army vehicle on its way to a secure government facility out in the desert but all is not what it seems. Crystal Skull is set 19 years after The Last Crusade and a lot has changed in that time: Jones is still teaching archeology but he has lost his friend Marcus Brody and father Henry Jones (Sean Connery) and he now lives in a world very different to the one we have seen before. Jones is now a more world-weary older man and we discover that he has been in the US forces, has a partner in his endeavours, Mac, a Brit played by Ray Winstone, and his main adversaries here are not the Nazis but the Russians, headed up by a sinister Cate Blanchett. So Jones gets embroiled in a quest to find a lost city in Peru and return the Crystal Skull of the title to its rightful home, accompanied by his former squeeze, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen from Raiders of The Lost Ark), a boy, Mutt Williams, who may or may not be his son, Winstone and John Hurt as barmy academic Professor Oxley. There was a lot of speculation before this came out that Ford was too old and that cinema has changed so much that there’s no room for films like Indiana Jones these days. I can say that, although Ford is obviously considerably older, he still has that likeable, honest charm that made the other three films such a joy to watch and there is real chemistry between him and Shia LaBoeuf, who plays young kid Mutt. This nuclear family with a twist works well on screen. Blanchett chews the scenery with style and Spielberg has remained true to his word, giving the film that pre-digital feel on screen and visually it is incredible. There are also enough moments that make you smile in the Crystal Skull like Indy hiding it in a fridge to save himself from a mushroom cloud or a sword fight across two speeding vehicles. Spielberg uses Ford’s age to good effect, with a number of good one-liners, and he has shifted the mood from 1930s movie serial to paranoid 1950s sci-fi with consummate ease. John Williams’ music sounds as classic and timeless as it did the first time you heard it and the sound here is exceptional. The mcguffin, that aliens landed in South America and when the Crystal Skull of the title is returned, the aliens will leave Earth, is a little thin but let’s be honest: the fun of the other movies was the journey rather than the arrival and this one is no different. Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull is a great deal of fun, holds your attention from start to finish and deserves to be the huge summer hit it probably is by the time you read this. Indiana Jones is back and I for one am glad that we got one more chance to see him on screen in a new adventure. Spielberg, Lucas and Ford should be very proud as this film sits well with the other three movies…