Wanna get an Oscar nomination or two? Start with the American Civil War as a backdrop, toss one of America’s greatest presidents into crisis, hire a dozen A-list actors, then uncork some fine speechifying, slyly folksy storytelling, and scurrilous political debate that’s been filtered through the intellect of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America). Finally, hand the project over to a director like Steven Spielberg . . . and start writing those acceptance speeches.
Lincoln stars the supremely talented Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president of the United States in a tightly focused drama that spans several months when the four-year-old Civil War was raging to its savage climax and Lincoln was desperate to pass legislation abolishing slavery throughout the U.S.
Unfortunately, factions within Lincoln’s own party were more interested in pushing for peace with the rebel South than supporting this 13th amendment to the constitution, while the Democrats were almost hysterical in their opposition to such “unnatural” legislation. Lincoln persevered against these seemingly insuperable odds with a mix of charm, nobility, and chicanery that became a master class in political maneuvering.
Despite the outcome being universally known, Lincoln manages to be suspenseful, dramatic, and often riveting — no small accomplishment in a film based more in talk than action. It’s also funny, poignant, and a great example of what a costume drama can become in the right hands. There are so many fine performances it’s almost unfair to pick favourites. Look for Day-Lewis on Oscar night, sure, but spare lots of applause for the likes of Tommy Lee Jones as strident black-rights advocate Thaddeus Stevens and David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward. And give Spielberg credit for reining in his sentimentality and grandiose filmmaking technique: with material this strong, restraint shows this amazing story to even better advantage. M
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field
PG 13 – 120 minutes
Continues at The Odeon
And speaking of Oscar nominations, The Sessions is likely to get one for its lead actor, John Hawkes. Although best known for portrayals of badass dudes in Deadwood and Winter’s Bone, Hawkes gives a marvelously tender and funny performance in the true-life story of Mark O’Brien, a poet and journalist who contracted polio as a child and spent the rest of his life in an iron lung (although he was able to live outside the lung for a few hours at a time).
The film is set in the 1980s when O’Brien was 38 and had decided that he wanted to explore his sexuality as best he could (although virtually incapable of movement, O’Brien had all his sensory equipment intact). A Catholic from birth, O’Brien suddenly announces to his priest (William H. Macy) that he needs to lose his virginity and asks how much trouble his soul would get in.
“I think God would give you a pass on this one,” is the drolly compassionate response. Before long O’Brien has reached out to a sex surrogate (the very unselfconscious Helen Hunt) who offers him six “sessions” before their relationship must terminate.
This unusual feel-good film is both candid and surprising in its look at sexuality — not least because the two male leads are either virginal or celibate. The emotional exchanges between O’Brien and not only his sex therapist but also the various caregivers he has are remarkable for their sweetness and vulnerability. This might make some people uncomfortable, but Sessions is a love story at its core and has been extremely popular at film festivals. M
The Sessions ★★★½
Directed by Ben Lewin
Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Annika Marks
R – 95 minutes
Continues at The Odeon
One of Phillips’ most unforgettable beers is the Amnesiac, their double IPA that comes in at a brain-fuzzing 8.5 per cent alcohol by volume. More important, it has a walloping load of hops to imbue this classic with as much tang and tartness as any IPA lover could want, nicely overlaid with notes of caramel, citrus and pine. As this comes in big bottles only, maybe just try one!
Victoria BC Movie Listings:
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -(Odeon) A bi-polar man (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) is trying to put his life back together when he meets a fascinating woman (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games) with problems of her own. Directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter). Starts Wed.
LIFE OF PI -(Odeon/SilverCity) Oscar winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) helms this wildly acclaimed adaptation of Yann Martel’s magical novel about a young man’s epic adventures at sea — most of which are shared with a terrifying Bengal tiger. Starts Wed.
★★ RED DAWN -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) In the 1984 original, Soviet soldiers invade a mid-western town and its up to the teen militia to kick ass. In this even loonier remake, the good guys are the local footabll team, North Koreans are the invaders, and their target is . . . Spokane! Silly, jingoist nonsense, but should entertain the hard of thinking. Starts Wed.
★★★ MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE’S MOST WANTED -(Caprice) Those mouthy NYC zoo escapees are up to their usual colourful antics in a wittily entertaining animation romp.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other magical icons come together to save the Earth after it is targeted by a very evil spirit named Pitch. This animated lark is voiced by Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin. Starts Wed.
★★★½ ARGO -(SilverCity/Caprice) Despite some liberties taken with the facts, this account of a CIA agent who managed to smuggle six Americans to safety from Iran during the famed 1979-’80 hostage crisis is surprisingly even-handed, very suspenseful and truly entertaining. Directed by and starring Ben Affleck.
★★½ CLOUD ATLAS -(Odeon/Caprice) German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) combines forces with Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) to take us on an exotic, wildly ambitious trip as characters lead parallel and contrasting lives in six different storylines in the past, present, and future. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS -(Caprice) Greg is totally ready for summer when suddenly his plans all fall apart. What’s the poor guy gonna do now?
★★★ FLIGHT -(Odeon/SilverCity) Denzel Washington is excellent in a morally complex drama about a heroic pilot who “impossibly” saves an airliner from certain destruction, only to find himself in a world of trouble for unexpected reasons.
HERE COMES THE BOOM -(Caprice) Kevin James stars in a badly-reviewed comedy about a high school teacher who recklessly decides to become a mixed-martial-arts performer to raise money for his in-need school.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA -(Caprice) A hotel where vampires and sundry other monsters hide out from humans gets a big scare when a backpacking dude shows up looking for a room. This animated comedy features the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and Andy Samberg.
★★★★ LINCOLN -(Odeon) Stephen Spielberg directs award-winning playwright Tony (Angels in America) Kushner’s account of Abraham Lincoln’s darkest days as he fights the Civil War and also fights political battles in his cabinet over plans to free America’s black slaves. The superb cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field. See review.
★★★½ LOOPER -(Caprice) This trippy, noir-tinged sci-fi thriller is a stylish mash-up of hitmen and time travel. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush), Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt. Note: moves here from the Westshore on Friday.
★★½ MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN -(Odeon) Deepa Mehta (Water) directs a competent but less-than-engaging adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s award-winning novel, a sprawling and epic account of 60 years of recent East Indian history.
★★½ PITCH PERFECT -(Caprice) It’s a gals-versus-the-guys vocal throwdown, as competing campus choirs seem to have gone to college only to major in Glee. Although not exactly Oscar bait, this is lots of fluffy fun. Note: moves here from the Westshore on Fri.
★★★★ THE SEARCH FOR SUGAR MAN -(Capitol) This musical documentary, a big Sundance winner, features the incredible quest of two South African men to discover whatever happened to a Bob Dylan-style troubadour from the early ’70s who never amounted to anything in his native America but became a huge superstar — and revolutionary influence — in South Africa at the height of the Apartheid era. Note: moves here from Uni 4 on Friday.
★★★½ THE SESSIONS -(Odeon) Deservedly rave reviews have greeted this frank and funny account of a man in an iron lung who wants to lose his viriginity and decides to have several sessions with a sex surrogate. At heart, this is a surprisingly tender look at sexuality, and a moving love story. Starring John Hawkes, William H. Macy, and Helen Hunt. Based on a true story. See review.
★★★★ SKYFALL -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) The latest James Bond spy thriller features cool gadgets, exotic locales . . . and a villain with a vendetta against poor old M. Easily one of the best Bonds ever, this has all the usual thrills but also an elegiacal tone and some unexpected drama that will leave the audience shaken and stirred. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, and Ralph Fiennes.
★★½ TAKEN 2 -(Caprice) Liam Neeson reprises his role as a retired CIA tough guy who has to use his nastiest skills when his wife gets kidnapped by the vengeful father of the goon that Neeson killed in the last movie. Well-directed if rather soulless action porn that benefits from its Istanbul setting.
★★½ TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) This most underwhelming vampire-werewolf soap opera finally comes to an end. The good news, such as it is, is that this is the best of a lame series, mostly because droopy emo-girl Bella has now transformed into a kick-ass vampire.
★★★ WRECK–IT RALPH -(SilverCity/Westshore) John C. Reilly provides the voice for a video-game villain who tires of being a bad guy and sets out on a quest that throws an entire video arcade into chaos. This occasionally-inspired animation lark includes the voices of Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 -(Caprice)
★★★ SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS -(Capitol)
MOVIE MONDAY – Is screening We Were Here. In honour of AIDS Awareness Week here is the 2011 documentary recounting the horrible times and extraordinary resilience of the gay community in San Francisco during the early years of the AIDS crisis. By donation. 6:30pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. 595FLIC. moviemonday.ca
MUSIC MOVIE WEDNESDAY-This once-monthly music-themed screening features Genghis Blues, the extraordinary documentary about a blind American bluesman who travels to Asia to compete in the Tuvan throat-singing championships. WEDNESDAY, Nov. 28, 7 pm, in the 1900-block Fort. 595FLIC. moviemonday.ca.
DRACULA LIVES! -There will probably be a sellout when Dracula: Lord of the Damned is screened. Locally produced, this five-year labour of love should appeal to fans of indie filmmaking as much as those with a penchant for demonic doings and sharp incisors. MONDAY, 7:30, Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St.
Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365. cinecenta.com.
TRANs -(Wed., Nov. 21: 7:00 only) In commemoration of the 14th annual Transgender Day of Rembrance is this screening of an award-winning documentary that fully explores this important topic.
THE GENDERFELLATOR -(Thurs., Nov. 22: 7:00 only) This campy sci-fi romp from the U.S. is a provocative porn satire set 80 years in the future where its transgendered male protagonist is an “illegal gender.”
★★★ PREMIUM RUSH -(Fri.-Sat., Nov. 23-24: 3:00, 7:10, 9:00) The always interesing Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 500 Days of Summer) stars in a zippy, low-tech thriller about a bike courier in NYC who picks up a mysterious package and starts getting chased all over the city by a dirty cop. This is a kinetic and fun night at the movies.
★★★½ FRANKENWEENIE -(Sat.-Sun., Nov. 24-25: 1:00 matinee) Tim Burton, master of the amusingly morbid, is in fine form in this darkly droll animated tale of a boy who uses lightning to bring his beloved pooch back from the dead. Not surprisingly, there are unexpected consequences. And lots of cinematic in-jokes.
★★★½ THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES -(Sun., Nov. 25: 3:00, 7:00, 9:00 & Mon., Nov. 26: 7:00, 9:00) Anyone curious about the lifestyles of the filthy rich should enjoy this documentary chronicling the rise and fall of a billionaire couple who spend zillions on an über-mansion inspired by Versailles, only to see their tacky dreams get hammered by the recent financial collapse.
★★★★★ VERTIGO -(Tues., Nov. 27: 7:00, 9:25) One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most intriguing masterpieces, this psychological thriller about obsession has a marvelously tricky plot and a great performance by James Stewart.
PUTIN’S KISS -(Wed., Nov. 28: 7:00 only) This Danish-Russian drama explores the nature of life in contemporary Russia by examining a politically ambitious young woman who comes to question her goals.
AIR RACERS -(1 pm, 5 pm & 8 pm, Sun.-Wed.) Paul Walker narrates this pulse-pounding documentary about the world’s fastest race, as amazingly nimble planes negotiate a tricky course at 500 MPH.
★★★ THE DARK KNIGHT RISES -(8 pm, Thurs.-Sat.)
THE LAST REEF: BENEATH THE SEA -(11 am, 2 pm, 4 pm, 7 pm)
★★★½ ROCKY MOUNTAIN EXPRESS -(10 am, 3 pm) Part history lesson, part glorious travelogue. NOTE: no 10 am show on Sat., Nov. 24.
TO THE ARCTIC -(noon, 6 pm) .