The Post

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* * * 1/2

There is a term certain critics use that’s quite fun: “wiggy.” It’s generally applied to films that are set in another period, and often to films portraying real people. The ultimate wiggy films are, for example, films where most, if not all the main characters look kind of ridiculous via the efforts the hair and make-up people have gone to make them look like their real-life counterparts.

The Post is very wiggy. It’s far more wiggy than Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which, on the surface, looked like a more likely candidate for top honours: crazy muttonchops, ludicrous sideburns, Lincoln’s beard (facial hair counts as “wig”). But Lincoln was a labour of love that Spielberg spent a very long time developing; it was long on the drawing boards and long in pre-production. I’m sure he had someone – paid, perhaps full-time – working on a bust of Daniel Day-Lewis from the moment the actor committed to the film, experimenting with wig.

By great contrast, The Post is Spielberg’s rapid response to Trump. It went from page to screen in nine months – an astonishingly quick process for a “Spielberg Film”, or any film. And so it’s quite wiggy, and rushed in other ways, because Mr. Spielberg – who knows what he’s doing, perhaps more than any other practitioner, of any industry, on the planet – made the decision early on that getting the film in theatres in order to reflect Trump’s War On The Press would – pardon me – trump the demands of perfectionism. Time was of the essence; perfect sideburns were not.

Working fast, Spielberg resorts to what he knows works; thus, at a moment of great decision, a camera slowly moves in on a Great Actor’s face. Would there be a more interesting way of doing the moment, something unexpected, understated, or even subversive? Undoubtedly. But Spielberg didn’t waste time. He captured a moment of Great Acting in a Spielbergian manner, and moved on.

The result, which plays like a prequel to All The President’s Men (1975), is spectacularly entertaining, in the way that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws are spectacularly entertaining. Breathlessly paced, it’s a journalist-movie thrill ride. Spotlight, which won the Best Film Oscar two years ago, had far more nuance, character development and emotional heft. The Post has urgency, in spades. There is no reason not to see it. It is professional, angry, and fun.

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Good for your Constitution

LINCOLN **** (out of five)

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Make no mistake, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, centered with another uncanny performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, is an excellent movie, and it grows in stature the more you think about it, partly because the subject matter is just so monumentally important. Focusing on an extremely tight frame of about four months, this is no biopic, but rather the telling of Abraham Lincoln’s fierce resolve to amend the United States Constitution to abolish slavery and declare equality of the races in the eyes of the law.

1352486185-lincolnEssentially, this the story of the passage of a piece of legislation in the House of Representatives, and if that doesn’t sound too thrilling, don’t worry, it is. Even watching the vote itself is suspenseful and very moving. Unfortunately, there is an inherent dramatic flaw, necessitated by history and the structure of the US political system: the President doesn’t actually sit in the House of Representatives, and all the best scenes in the film take place there, so our lead character is out of the main action.

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863Still, Day-Lewis gets to spin a lot of gentle anecdotes with great meaning, and has a few scenes where his passionate abhorrence of slavery get to see him riled up. This Lincoln exudes unbelievable intelligence and goodness; essentially without a flaw, it’s a strange role, and in lesser hands he may have been the cipher at the heart of the film that bore his name. Not in the hands of the Tall Irishman, however, who’s certain to add another Oscar to his shelf, not least because he’s playing someone just so darn perfect.

A second narrative thread looks at Lincoln’s family life; I didn’t need those scenes, and Sally Field, as Mrs. Lincoln, was a distraction: I never see a character when she’s onscreen, only Ms. Field, but that could be my own peccadillo. The usually solid Joseph Gordon-Levitt struggles with a whiny role as Lincoln’s oldest son, and a young cherubic chappy named Gulliver McGrath, as the youngest, has no business sharing the screen with The World’s Greatest Actor. He’s surprisingly bad – for Spielberg has shown in the past a huge talent for picking natural child performers; McGrath is about as natural as slavery.

lincoln-_h_2012An extraordinary supporting cast makes full meal of a panoply of Republicans and Democrats, led by Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and David Constabile, and including a nefarious triumvirate of political murky dealers played by an excellent James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and and John Hawkes. Jared Harris turns up as Ulysses S. Grant, Jackie Earle Haley brings his weaselly vibe to Alexander Stephens, and on and on it goes, famous faces as famous players.

A perfect educational tool for the decades to come, Lincoln is also surprisingly urgent, and an excellent metaphor for the current state of the US Presidency: if you’re wondering why it’s taking Mr. Obama a little longer than you’d hoped for him to make good on some of his 2008 Campaign promises, just look at the intense difficulties of getting stuff done in Washington, as represented by this sombre, powerful film, one of Spielberg’s most restrained, and best.

Blistering Barnacles!

The Adventures of Tintin ***1/2

During the end credits of Steven Spielberg’s wild, motion-capture fantasia based on three of the Tintin adventure books (The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Crab With the Golden Claws) comes this jaw-dropping one: “Second Unit Director: Peter Jackson.” Yes, that Peter Jackson. Not quite running the catering unit, but still, not a job he would typically take. But this is no ordinary collaboration. The Adventures of Tintin is resolutely the first of two (perhaps more) Tintin films, with Jackson co-producing this one and slated to direct the next, and Spielberg swapping over to co-produce that one. It’s all very “insider” and I’m sure the two of them are having a hell of a lot of fun – which is what the movie is.

If, like me and countless millions, Tintin kind of was your childhood, then this film will no doubt have already created a kind of panic within you: what if they screw it up? They haven’t, so don’t worry, but, frankly, maybe it’s simply impossible for it to release that eight-year-old’s sense of thrilling wonder, because maybe nothing can live up to that sort of elation.

Will today’s eight year olds love the movie, if they haven’t gorged themselves on the books? Hard to say. It’s practically impossible for me to write about the film without comparing it to the books, and with the entire Tintin universe. When I try and look at it objectively, I realise the characters are pretty eccentric: a sort of manboy who lives alone in an apartment with a dog for a best friend; two completely incompetent cops (who actually work for Scotland Yard – strange standards) and, of course, a grumpy, alcoholic shambles of a sea captain. Plus that dog. Will today’s kids respond to this motley crew with the passionate love that I always have?

Well, if not, at least they’ve got plenty of action to enjoy, and the action in this movie is absolutely brilliant. There are at least three extended, stunning action set pieces that feel like classic, madcap Spielberg – Raiders of the Lost Ark era. They’re loads of fun, and the 3D is well used.

The motion capture acting is excellent, with Jamie Bell doing a credible Tintin and the master of the medium, Andy Serkis, doing an excellent Haddock (although he doesn’t look exactly as I wanted him to – he looked a little too human for my taste). Unfortunately the comic duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are wasted as Thompson and Thomson, but this was basically inevitable: why employ two intriguing comedians to play two people who are, in look, tone, style, personality and verbal nuance, essentially interchangeable?

The Secret of the Unicorn and the others were not my favourites of the series (they weren’t my least favourites either) but it’s clear why they were chosen: Tintin meets Haddock here, really kicking the series proper off (the few books pre-Haddock always seemed a little lonely to me, a little empty). At the end it is made very clear that these two are off to have another adventure. My vote would be for Flight 714. Now that could make for a perfect Tintin movie.