23 Aug 2014
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This Week at the Movies

'Lincoln' is Spielberg's best film in seven years and 'Skyfall' marks a triumphant return for James Bond.

This Week at the Movies

Two iconic figures—one real, one fictional—returned to the big screen this weekend.

Daniel Day Lewis gives another of his transformative performances as the 16th president of the United States in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” The film, which is the director’s best since “Munich,” is far from the typical bio film you’d expect to come out of Hollywood.

Rather than lay out Lincoln’s early life, political career and all of the other pit stops along the way, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) focus completely on the president’s pushing the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

The film takes a behind-the-scenes look at how politics works that despite its taking place in the 1860s, still rings resonant today.

Day Lewis, one of the world’s best actors, is known for his intense portrayals – “Gangs of New York” and “There Will Be Blood” come to mind. Although his Lincoln is a mild mannered man who resorts to humor and storytelling when trying to coax his opponents, Lewis’s performance is no less impressive than his more villainous portrayals.

Sally Field brings a certain amount of ferocity to Mary Todd Lincoln, who is seen as the driving force behind Lincoln, but also a woman torn apart by the loss of one of her sons. And Tommy Lee Jones is equally noteworthy as Pennsylvania Congressman and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.

While “Lincoln” is set against the backdrop of the Civil War, there is only one battle scene. And while the film is filled with speechmaking, there is a lack of Hollywood melodrama that you’d expect in a film of this sort. The characters in the film, fighting over the amendment to abolish slavery, deliver their speeches to convince one another, not us.

The film is a chamber piece, of sorts, as its characters hash out policy and make deals in dark rooms. There are, in fact, only a few scenes that take place outdoors. One of the most notable is when Lincoln rides horseback to visit the devastation of a battlefield.

“Lincoln” ranks with “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” “Minority Report” and “Munich” as one of Spielberg’s best of the past decade. One of its most impressive feats is that the director and his leading man have drawn out the ordinary qualities of a figure so iconic and made him relatable to us all.

James Bond returns to the screen for the first time in four years in “Skyfall,” which almost drowns out memories of 2008’s disappointing “Quantum of Solace.”

This new film, directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), is a step up visually and in terms of storytelling from the past several entries into the long-running series.

At the film’s beginning, Bond (Daniel Craig) is thought to be dead after a mission goes wrong in the Middle East. But he returns after a blonde-coiffed super villain named Silva, played with verve by Javier Bardem, blows up a British intelligence office and makes threats against M (Judi Dench).

The film’s piece de resistance is a fight between Bond and another of the picture’s baddies against the backdrop of a blue-illuminated Shanghai skyline.

And an atmospheric finale at an abandoned Scottish castle is nearly as memorable. “Skyfall” is one of the more cinematic Bond films of recent memory.

If there’s any complaint, it’s that the film is a little longer than necessary for this type of picture. But after a summer’s worth of mostly mediocre franchise films, it’s nice to see a blockbuster series that was previously fizzling out return with a newly discovered sense of purpose.

"Lincoln" is screening at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 and will expand into Queens in upcoming weeks. "Skyfall" is playing at AMC Loews Bay Terrace 6 and Douglaston's Movie World.

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