Archive for the Drama Category

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)

Posted in 2013, Crime Films, Drama, Family Secrets, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , on April 9, 2013 by knifefighter

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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After last year’s DRIVE, I’ve been looking forward to more dramas starring Ryan Gosling. He’s an actor I noticed fairly early on (in movies like 2001’s THE BELIEVER and 2006’s HALF NELSON) and it was pretty obvious then that he was going to be a big star. The fact that he continues to pick interesting projects is to his benefit. So when I heard this one was directed by Derek Cianfrance, who also made BLUE VALENTINE (2010), another interesting showcase for Gosling, I was doubly convinced this was going to be a good one.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES takes place in Schenectady, New York (supposedly, Schenectady literally means “the place beyond the pines”), and it begins with Luke (Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist for a traveling carnival. The movie doesn’t really dwell much on what Luke does with that ‘cycle, but it’s actually kind of amazing. Three guys drive motorcycles into this big metal ball and then they drive inside of it, upside down and across, at high speeds, and somehow avoid colliding with and killing each other. I wanted to know more about this fascinating profession, but THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES just uses it as an interesting bit of background, which I found disappointing (how do they do it?).

Luke finds out that a girl he had a fling with the last time he was in town, Romina (Eva Mendez), has given birth to his son, and that she is raising the baby with another man, Cofi (Mahershala Ali). Luke is upset when he finds out, and demands to be a part of the child’s life. He quits his job at the carnival, because he wants to stay in town, but he has trouble finding work, until he meets Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, who was also really good as Daggett in last year’s KILLING THEM SOFTLY), who has his own garage where he fixes cars (it’s actually the garage attached to his house!). Robin offers Luke a job as a mechanic, and a trailer in his backyard as a place to live.

Luke can barely support himself, but he’s intent on getting enough money to take care of his son, and he still believes he can get Romina to run away with him. Money seems to be his biggest roadblock in these plans. Robin tells him a way he can make more money—robbing banks. Turns out Robin used to do it himself in his youth, and he knows how to pull it off. The fact that Luke is an expert motorcyclist doesn’t hurt, either, since it gives him a great getaway vehicle.

This first storyline is pretty interesting, and reminded me of the strong character development that director Cianfrance gave us in BLUE VALENTINE. Unfortunately, this is just one of three stories in the film (which are kind of separate but interconnected at the same time). I would have really liked to see more of Luke and Romina, but we only get to focus on them for a short time.

The second storyline involves Avery (Bradley Cooper), a cop who has a run-in with Luke. The movie then follows him as he gets involved with a scam involving some corrupt cops (led by the always reliable Ray Liotta as Deluca). Should he blow the whistle on the corrupt cops, or should he just go with the flow? His conscience tells him one thing, but it’s made clear to him that cops who rat on their own may not have a long life expectancy.

The final storyline focuses on the sons of Avery and Luke, now in high school, and both of them are troubled. Avery’s son AJ (Emory Cohen) has become pretty volatile since his parents’ divorce, and trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. Jason (Dane DeHaan), Luke’s son, seems more clear-headed at first, but he spirals down once he meets AJ (who transfers to his school) and starts getting involved in his shenanigans.

The acting is very good. Gosling is the obvious stand-out here, but Cooper is quite good as well (in a less compelling role). The boys who play their sons are good here, too. Cohen is spot on as a troubled kid who is constantly acting out, and DeHaan (who was so great in last year’s CHRONICLE) is riveting as a good kid gone bad. The support characters are good, too, including Eva Mendes (I wish she had had more screen time, she’s really good here), Rose Byrne as Avery’s wife (a less developed role) , and Mendelson.

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The script however, is not as strong as BLUE VALENTINE. In that previous movie, Cianfrance was able to show us the slow disintegration of a marriage and make it captivating. I really enjoyed that film a lot. In comparison, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is good, but kind of a letdown. Part of the problem is the triptych sequence in which the stories are told. In BLUE VALENTINE, we got one storyline throughout, and it was made stronger as we examined the characters closely over time. In PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, we never get to spend enough time with any one set of characters, and it hurts in establishing that connection between movie and viewer.

The first part with Gosling is very good. The second part, with Cooper, felt less fresh to me. A good cop trying to stay clean among corrupt peers has been done hundreds of times before, and the movie doesn’t really give us anything new in that regard. Cooper does what he can with the role, but the truth is, Avery just is not as compelling as Luke, and the movie loses a little steam once Avery’s story begins. The final segment, involving the teenage sons of both men, is good, but once again, not as strong as the first part with Gosling. Over all, it’s an interesting movie, even if it is a little uneven at times, but it’s not as good as it could have been. Cianfrance has shown us what he’s capable of, and PINES just seems to fall a little short.

I liked it, and recommend it to fans of Gosling and Cooper, but it’s not either of their best work. I give THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES three knives out of five.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES ~three knives.

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou’s TOP 20 MOVIES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Best Of Lists, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Comedies, Drama, Horror, Musicals, Science Fiction, Superheroes, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on January 3, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

Presents

Top 20 Movies of 2012

I hate admitting it, but 2012 turned out to be an exceptional year for film entertainment.  When I made out my list of favorites for the year, I was astounded to find twenty six movies listed, and these were the ones I really, REALLY liked.  So, in all fairness to the year that was, I am making a list of twenty best this year.  Please keep in mind, I have not been able to view everything released.  I still haven’t seen THE MASTER, ZERO DARK THIRTY, PROMISED LAND, and others, but I have seen the films listed below, and they were all terrific in their own way.

And now, counting backwards:

20. THE AVENGERS – A comic book movie done right!  Exciting, funny, if a  bit too long; it was always entertaining.

19. SAVAGES – Oliver Stone brings us a wickedly twisted take on Don Winslow’s great novel and gives Salma Hayek her best role ever as a Mexican drug kingpin.

18. CABIN IN THE WOODS – A hoot and a half for horror lovers, this clever film turned the viewer into an active participant.

17. MAGIC MIKE – Filmed in beautiful pastel hues, this is more than a stripper movie; it’s a rom-com with just the right bit of silliness to combat the sweet.  I hate admitting how good this is or how good Channing Tatum is in the lead.

16. THE RAID: REDEMPTION – Asian action to the tenth degree, this movie was more exciting than a hundred Hollywood blockbusters at a hundredth of the budget.

15. JOHN CARTER – Maligned by critics who never read Edgar Rice Burroughs, this is a faithful, old-fashioned and FUN film that brought out the twelve year old boy in me.

14.THE BAY – I thought I hated found footage films by now, but Barry Levinson made it fresh again with a truly horrifying take on a parasitic outbreak.  It brought immediacy to the drama without making me scream “Put down the damn camera and run!” at the screen.  Best horror film of the year.

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13. PITCH PERFECT – Aca-hilarious!  This does for acappella choirs what BRING IT ON (2000) did for cheerleading.  A funny, wise-assed script, terrific music, and the best use ever for a John Hughes ending.  I loved this even though I knew I shouldn’t.

12. THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS and WRECK IT RALPH– Who expects wit in a cartoon?  These are both full of wit and wonder, beautifully animated, funny, and better than anything Pixar has done in years.

11. THE IMPOSTER– Riveting documentary about a boy who disappeared and the young man who claimed, four years later, to be that missing kid.  Why didn’t the family report him to the police when it is so obvious he wasn’t their son?

10. LIFE OF PI – Easily the most beautiful and transcendent of the top twenty, Ang Lee’s terrifying story of a boy trapped on a life raft with a Bengal Tiger is scary and moving, opening up questions about truth and story-telling.  Every writer should watch this one.

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9. LINCOLN – Absorbing historical film with a riveting performance by Daniel Day Lewis.  Some say it is slow moving, but the scenes of Congress battling over the future of slavery are gripping and beautifully written and directed.  Spielberg’s best film since 2005’s MUNICH.

8. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD – Nobody I know saw this lyrical, gorgeous, fascinating story of a childhood in poverty and the beauty a little girl creates within her fantasy world to block out reality.  Rectify this and watch it now.

7. LOOPER – The best science fiction movie in years.  Thoughtful, well-acted, and intense in ways most thrillers aren’t.  Welcome back to the fold, Bruce Willis. We missed you.

6. MOONRISE KINGDOM – Wes Anderson’s lovely film about childhood and how we want to protect our children from themselves.  It’s also a perfect blend of whimsy and Anderson’s perfect visual compositions.

5. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED – A wonderful comedy that sneaks up on you and remains with you forever.  Snarkiness is rampant, but the heart of this movie is worn on its sleeve, and the ending will make you believe in love and the impossible.

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4. DJANGO UNCHAINED – Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Italian Westerns is an incredible piece of work with numerous great performances, terrific music and songs, the best shoot-out since THE WILD BUNCH (1969), and the funniest scene ever involving the KKK.

3. ARGO – Possibly the most entertaining movie of the year with a great script, tight direction, lots of suspense, humor, and John Goodman and Alan Arkin in career bests.  This is crackerjack Hollywood filmmaking, the kind you rarely see anymore, and everything in it works.  Ben Afleck has become one of our best directors.  How the hell did that happen?

2. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – This is how  you make a crowd pleaser without resorting to mawkishness and pandering.  Two fragile, emotionally disturbed people meet, become friends, and help each other win a dance contest.  Sounds hokey, right?  It isn’t.  This movie is so well acted and directed that I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by it.

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1. LES MISERABLES – With all the faults of the stage play, this is still a wondrous experience in a theater.  The actors sang their songs live – something unheard of in movie musicals – with varying results, but the immediacy and emotion this brought out of the score make this the closest we’ll ever get to a live Broadway Show on film.  Plus, someone just engrave Anne Hathaway’s name on the Oscar now.  I was reduced to an emotional puddle by the end, as was the entire audience.

*****

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WORST FILM OF THE YEAR – No competition!  BATTLESHIP was everything an action movie shouldn’t be…overblown, overlong, dull, unfunny, badly acted, with the dumbest script I have ever heard.  My mouth hung ajar over this fiasco.  And not in a good, “let’s make fun of it” manner!  This snoozefest blew up everything in its path and still nearly put me to sleep.

Honestly, what a great year!

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

FLIGHT (2012)

Posted in 2012, Addiction, Denzel Washington Movies, Drama, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on November 30, 2012 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  FLIGHT (2012)
By Michael Arruda

I’ll have two vodkas with that beer, thank you.

In FLIGHT (2012), the latest film by acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a commercial airline pilot who by all accounts is at the top of his game, as skilled and experienced as any pilot out there, with the exception of one nasty little secret:  he’s an alcoholic.

When FLIGHT opens, Whip has just spent a wild night drinking with his girlfriend Katerina (Nadine Velazquez).  Katerina works as a flight attendant for the same airline that employs Whip, and while it may be okay for a flight attendant to work after a heavy night of drinking, the same can’t be said for an airline pilot.  To get himself primed to fly, Whip snorts cocaine.  Still not satisfied, he drinks while flying the plane, all the while doing his best to hide this behavior from everyone around him in an attempt to make them believe that everything is normal.

During the flight, there is a major malfunction with the steering mechanism on the plane, and Whip performs a miraculous maneuver involving flying the plane upside down.  He is able to crash land in a field, and there is only a minor loss of life, four passengers and two crew members.  By all accounts, Whip is hailed as a hero.  One of the crew members killed is his girlfriend Katerina.

When investigators discover high alcohol and drug levels in Whip’s blood, his buddy and union rep Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) brings in a lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), who promises to make the test results inadmissible in court.  All Whip has to do is refrain from drinking, and both he and the airline should be in good shape.  This is easier said than done, because Whip is an alcoholic.  He has no control over his drinking, and worse yet, he doesn’t recognize he has a drinking problem.

Whip becomes involved with a young woman, Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a recovering drug addict, and Nicole tries to help Whip stay on the straight and narrow, but Whip is living in denial and refuses to acknowledge his problem or let anyone help him, which does not bode well for his future or the airline’s.

The major problem I had with FLIGHT is I didn’t like Denzel Washington’s character, Whip Whitaker.  I liked the initial conflict, that Whip is an alcoholic who’s drunk while piloting the plane, yet he’s the one responsible for saving the plane and the lives of the passengers.  I thought this was going to be the story of his coming around too late—sure, he was drunk, but that’s not why the plane crashed, and now that he’s turned himself around, he’s going to have to struggle to prove that this is the case, that his drunken condition isn’t what crashed the plane, that in fact, he’s the guy who saved the plane.

But this isn’t what happens, because Whip is an alcoholic, and his story, like most accounts of alcoholics, is an ugly one.  This ultimately is what FLIGHT is all about, the story of an alcoholic living in denial, intent on ignoring everyone around him, not interested in changing his situation.  Obviously, we hope there’s a moment where Whip sees the light.  The problem with FLIGHT is this moment arrives way too late in the game for it to matter much.

And for a movie directed by Robert Zemeckis , the guy who brought us the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies and FORREST GUMP (1994), as well as the recent BEOWULF (2007) which I liked, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009) which I didn’t like, FLIGHT doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of striking visuals.  The flight sequence is “okay,” but it wasn’t as intense as I expected it to be.  I thought a similar plane crash sequence in THE GREY (2012) was much more riveting than the events depicted here.

That’s another problem I had with this movie.  It continually played below expectations.  FLIGHT has “should have been better” written all over it.

The acting is fine, and Denzel Washington is very good as Whip, even though the character really isn’t likable.  I realize alcoholics aren’t supposed to be fun characters, but the real story here should have been about redemption, but unfortunately, we’re made to wait and wait before anything even resembling redemption occurs.  In fact, Whip actually grows more unlikable as the movie goes along

I did like Kelly Reilly as Nicole, the woman who tries to help Whip control his alcohol addiction.  Unlike Whip, she grows more agreeable as the story progresses.

Tamara Tunie is also very good as the head flight attendant on the flight, Margaret, and both Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle deliver satisfying performances.  However, in Cheadle’s case, I’ve seen him act so much better in other things, that he was almost disappointing here.  Speaking of disappointment, I was a little dissatisfied with John Goodman’s small role as Whip’s flaky friend and drug provider Harling Mays.  I found Mays rather cliché.  Goodman gets to play things over the top, but I definitely found him more satisfying as makeup man John Chambers in ARGO (2012).

The screenplay by John Gatins is okay, but it’s certainly not great.  There just seems to be something missing in this story.  The biggest problem I had with it is the payoff comes way too late in the movie.  Gatins also wrote the science fiction-actioner REAL STEEL (2011), another film that performed below expectations, but for different reasons. That one just became silly.

FLIGHT struggles to make its point, which is people with drinking problems need to admit it first before they can take control of their lives.  Instead of getting to the heart of the matter immediately, it presents its story in roundabout way, meandering through the elaborate tale of the plane crash, and spending way too much time on the ugliness of Whip’s condition.

What should have been a simple story—the story of an alcoholic in denial who lies about everything and doesn’t care how many people—friends, family, co-workers- he hurts in the process—taken to higher levels, remains grounded in peripheral details that detract rather than inspire.  The question that surfaces is what will it take for Whip to admit he has a drinking problem?  Crashing a plane?  His girlfriend’s death?  His new girlfriend’s rejection?  The anger of his ex-wife and teenage son? The prospect of spending years in prison?  The answer is apparently none of these things.

I also didn’t get the “act of God” theme which surfaces throughout the movie, as various characters refer to events in the film as an act of God.  It was an act of God that the plane malfunctioned.  It was an act of God that Whip was the man at the helm. This is mentioned a few times, yet nothing really is made of it, in terms of plot points.  Also, the religious characters in this film act like they’re high on another drug, caffeine.  When the co-pilot’s wife yells for Whip to accept “Jesus!” it’s startling!  I wish movies would do a better job of portraying religious people, who for the most part, don’t sound like evangelicals when they speak.

The best scene in the movie comes early on and is a conversation in a hospital hallway between Whip, Nicole, and a cancer patient.  There’s a strong feeling of truth and honesty among these three characters, and this scene really resonates.  It’s a telling moment in a movie that doesn’t seem to have many others.

Ultimately, there’s nothing really all that exciting or inspiring about FLIGHT.  It’s a movie that surprisingly doesn’t soar.

I give it two knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives FLIGHT ~ two knives!

LINCOLN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Drama, Historical Films, Michael Arruda Reviews, Steven Spielberg with tags , , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  LINCOLN (2012)
By Michael Arruda

 

 Let me get this straight:  LINCOLN (2012) is a movie about our most loved and revered U.S. President, directed by one of the most talented and successful directors of all time, Steven Spielberg, starring one of the best actors of his generation, Daniel Day-Lewis, in the lead role, and featuring an ensemble cast that’s second to none.  Talk about a winning combination!  If this movie were a poker hand, it’d be four aces.

LINCOLN is one of those movies that is nearly impossible to find fault with, and really, why would you want to?  It depicts a moment in history that defined our nation, and the movie presents this moment in a manner that is second to none.  Direction, acting, music, sets, costumes, and make-up are all phenomenal.  It really is a special movie.

 

LINCOLN takes place during the final days of the American Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) desperately wants to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which will outlaw slavery in the United States forever.  Lincoln knows that his Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves during the Civil War was a wartime measure, issued because of his war powers as Commander-in-Chief.  He knows that come peace time, there is nothing on the books to keep slavery illegal, and most likely slavery will return, an idea Lincoln finds intolerable.

The problem Lincoln faces, as explained to him by his Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), is that there’s simply no support for the amendment in the House of Representatives.  The measure had already passed in the Senate.  The Democrats aren’t interested in the amendment at all, and the support from his own party, the Republicans, is lukewarm at best, and his party members are only interested in the amendment as a way to end the war.  If the war were to end first, then there would be very little support from Congress or the public in freeing the slaves.

And so things grow complicated when Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) arranges for a peace delegation from the South to travel north to meet with Lincoln to negotiate an end to the war.  Members of his own party argue against Lincoln meeting this Southern contingent, telling him that if the war ends, then the amendment will never pass.  Lincoln counters by saying it’ll be worse if they learn that he was offered a chance to end the war and refused it.

Lincoln agrees to meet with the Southern peace delegation, while at the same time he employs a team of men to work furiously behind the scenes to get the votes needed to pass the amendment.  This team is led by W.N Bilbo (James Spader), and basically their job is to offer the Congressmen political favors in return for voting for the amendment.  Some Congressmen agree, but most don’t, and some even try to kill Bilbo.  Ah, the world of politics!

Meanwhile, on the House floor, the most vocal proponent of the amendment is Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), but his views on slavery are so liberal that his words are often used against him.  In his case, Lincoln’s team works on getting him to temper his remarks, in order for them to achieve the common goal of passing the amendment.

If all this political turmoil wasn’t enough, Lincoln is also dogged at home.  His oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is angry that his father won’t let him enlist, and constantly argues with him, demanding that he allow him to do so.  His wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) is still grieving over the death of their middle son and will absolutely not forgive her husband if he allows his son to enlist, which in his heart, he knows he should do.  In one of the movie’s best scenes, Lincoln argues with Mary, yelling at her in a rare moment of lost composure that he should have had her committed.

Even though we know from history how all these events eventually played out, the movie does a masterful job at building suspense over whether or not the Thirteenth Amendment will be passed, and shows the amazing integrity, intelligence, and political ability of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln.

It’s a great script by Tony Kushner, based in part on the book “Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. As such, watching this film is similar to reading a book.  It’s filled with deep, rich characters, and its story really resonates on screen.

There are many, many emotional moments throughout LINCOLN.  The scene where Lincoln makes his case to his Cabinet that the amendment must pass is riveting, as are the scenes where the president argues with his wife Mary and son Robert.

And the sequence towards the end of the movie when the House must vote on the amendment is chock full of suspense.

Daniel Day-Lewis is excellent as Lincoln.  He portrays a Lincoln that you simply don’t want to stop watching.  You really feel as if you are watching the real Abraham Lincoln.  And in conjunction with this phenomenal acting performance, the make-up job on him is also incredible.

The rest of the cast is almost as good as Daniel Day-Lewis.  Tommy Lee Jones is outstanding as Thaddeus Stevens.  It’s a dominating scene-stealing performance, and if not for Day-Lewis, I’d be saying that Jones delivered the best performance in the movie, but in this case, he’ll have to settle for second best.

Sally Field also dominates as Mary Todd Lincoln.  Come Oscar time, these three most likely will be nominated for acting awards.

David Strathairn shines as Secretary of State Seward.  Strathairn’s a fine actor who we saw in the last two BOURNE movies, and once again he doesn’t disappoint.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds first-rate support as Robert Lincoln.  How many movies is Gordon-Levitt going to appear in this year?  He’s been unbelievably busy, and in each film I see him in he seems to get better and better.

I also really enjoyed James Spader as W.N. Bilbo.  His efforts and antics in trying to “buy” the votes of the congressmen provide some of the more humorous moments in the movie.  Jackie Earle Hailey is solid as Alexander Stephens, the leader of the Southern peace delegation.  His brief speech when speaking with Lincoln sums up the South’s position as to why they were hesitant to accept Lincoln’s peace terms.  Like other scenes in this movie, this sequence does a great job presenting all sides to the arguments made in the film.  There are definitely shades of gray throughout, rather than black and white.

Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair delivers a notable performance as well, one of his more memorable performances in years.

But better than this cast, and perhaps every bit the equal of Daniel Day-Lewis, is the extraordinary directorial job by Steven Spielberg.  LINCOLN is an absolutely beautiful production.  Many of the scenes of Lincoln are so creatively shot, they look like paintings.  We see Lincoln in silhouette, behind sheer curtains, and in the shadows—there is a tremendous use of shadow in this movie.  I have to admit, there were times I was distracted from the story because I was so impressed by the visuals in this movie.

I said LINCOLN was a movie that was nearly impossible to find fault with, but it’s not perfect.  As a movie driven by dialogue, acting, and an historical story, there’s very little action in this one.  As a result, it’s rather slow-paced.  It takes its time, and its 150 minutes don’t exactly fly by.

But truthfully, this didn’t bother me all that much.  I was totally captivated by the entire package from beginning to end.

There’s also an excellent music score by John Williams, one of his more effective scores in years.  It’s very subtle and not over-the-top dramatic, as some of his recent scores have been.

LINCOLN is a movie that shouldn’t be missed.  Its subject matter, Abraham Lincoln, combined with the talent behind it, most notably Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis, make it more of a cinematic experience than a movie.

I give it an enthusiastic four knives.

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© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives LINCOLN ~four knives.