Video Verdict: ‘Lincoln,’ ‘Killing Them Softly,’ ‘Parental Guidance,’ ‘The Collection’

Daniel Day-Lewis won a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of the title character in director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

Daniel Day-Lewis won a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of the title character in director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

This week’s home video releases are anchored by a terrific historical drama that was nominated for 12 Oscars, including best picture.

Lincoln

4 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
DreamWorks
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Despite its all-encompassing title, director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is more about politics than the 16th president of the United States. To be sure, Abraham Lincoln, as depicted by Daniel Day-Lewis, is the central figure in the movie. But the focus is purely on his push to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Missing are scenes of Lincoln’s childhood and his moves as a fledgling politician. Instead, viewers meet the president at the height of his political prowess, and they watch as he manipulates American government in a way few politicians – before or after – have been able to accomplish.

The tight focus is one of the joys of the movie and it, no doubt, helped the film garner 12 Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. In the end, “Lincoln” won only two of those awards, but that doesn’t diminish the historically significant and surprisingly topical on-screen product.

Spielberg clearly wants viewers to see parallels between Lincoln’s maneuvering and the moves taking place on Capitol Hill today. But one needn’t be a political junkie to enjoy the film. What will help is a healthy interest in history and a long attention span. The latter is important because “Lincoln” runs 150 minutes, and it’s talky by necessity. Much of the action involves politicians quietly scheming in back rooms and meeting halls. As excruciating as that may sound, Spielberg finds a way to make it thrilling… as long as one pays attention. Drift off, and it’s possible to get hopelessly lost in the complications of the plot.

Day-Lewis won his third best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Lincoln, and he is deserving of the award. Despite his English roots, the actor disappears so thoroughly into the role that it’s hard to imagine anyone else – American or British – playing it. As depicted by Day-Lewis, Lincoln is a charismatic man who is quick with a story and a smile, but he’s also a fearless champion of his beliefs.

The supporting cast is also exceptional. Sally Field landed a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones earned a best supporting actor nod for his wonderful reading of politician Thaddeus Stevens. Other noteworthy cast members include David Strathairn as William Seward, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln, Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, Jackie Earle Haley as Alexander Stephens, John Hawkes as Robert Latham and James Spader as W.N. Bilbo.

Not surprisingly, Spielberg puts all that talent to use, producing a movie that captures an important moment in American history while demonstrating how few things have changed since Lincoln’s death nearly 150 years ago.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette.

 

Killing Them Softly

3 stars
Rated R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language, and some drug use
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

With “Killing Them Softly,” writer-director Andrew Dominik delivers a fascinating crime drama that is both a standard-order thriller and a critique of the American financial system. Based on novelist George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel “Cogan’s Trade,” the film centers on a hitman (Brad Pitt) who is charged with offing the guys that robbed a mob-sponsored poker game.

This premise is relatively simple, but Dominik creates complexity by setting the story against the 2008 presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain. Frequently, the director cuts to real-life news clips referencing America’s economic crisis, inviting comparisons between the above-board economy and that controlled by organized crime.

The political commentary is interesting, and it helps set the film apart, but the cast is the best part of the feature. Pitt is fantastic as a calculating, ruthless assassin who does whatever it takes to get the job done. He gets equally strong supporting work from Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins, all playing fellow mobsters.

Dominik excels in crafting a gritty atmosphere that’s reminiscent of great mob movies like “Goodfellas.” Unfortunately, he also allows the film to bog down in talky sections that wander into unnecessary territory. Because of this, the project isn’t a complete success, but its good points easily outweigh the bad.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

 

Parental Guidance

2½ stars
Rated PG for some rude humor
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Andy Fickman built his film career directing mid-tier family comedies with the likes of “She’s the Man” and “Race to Witch Mountain.” With “Parental Guidance,” he walks the same ground by delivering an amusing, if altogether predictable, film about the complexities of familial relationships.

The always-lovable Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star as Artie and Diane Decker, an aging couple who have become increasingly alienated from their daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei). There aren’t significant hard feelings between the three, but Alice didn’t appreciate the parenting style that her folks employed, and she is taking care to raise her three children differently. Things get tense when Alice and her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), need Artie and Diane to babysit for a few days.

As events play out, Alice faces the worry that her old-school parents will instill “bad habits” in her children. In the meantime, Artie and Diane have no idea how to cope with the modern lifestyle that Alice and her family enjoy. Because this is a family comedy, everything works out in the end, and everyone is better off for the events that occur. The fun is in watching how things unfold.

Anyone who demands subtlety from the cinema may be put off by the movie’s in-your-face brand of humor. In fact, “Parental Guidance” is a borderline farce. The characters are larger than life, and they often do things no right-thinking human beings would even consider. Still, the movie is largely enjoyable.

Most of the credit goes to Crystal and Midler who are fun to watch playing off one another and the other actors in the ensemble. Tomei and Scott are solid in their cookie-cutter roles, and all three child actors (Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) do a reasonably good job. “Parental Guidance” doesn’t take viewers anyplace unexpected, and it’s certainly not highbrow. Nevertheless, it’s reasonably good fun for children and parents to enjoy together.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Crystal and Fickman.

 

The Collection

1½ stars
Rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and brief nudity
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Horror films about diabolical mass murderers are ever-present, but only a few are worth the time required to view them. “The Collection,” a sequel to the 2009 film “The Collector,” is a standard-order slasher flick that does little to set itself apart.

Directed and co-written by Marcus Dunstan, “The Collection” takes over where “The Collector” left off, but one needn’t watch the original movie to understand what’s going on. The action centers on a whacked-out uber-villain who kills multitudes of people in ridiculously gruesome ways. His trademark, however, is that he leaves one person alive, so he can add him or her to his “collection.”

The latest person to be kidnapped is Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick), a young woman who lives alone with her doting father (Christopher McDonald). When Emma is taken, a victim from the first movie – Arkin (Josh Stewart) – is inadvertently freed, making him the first person to escape the killer’s grasp.

This sets the stage for a twist. Emma’s father asks a long-time friend and employee, Lucello (Lee Tergeson), to attempt a rescue. In hopes of completing the request, Lucello rounds up a group of vigilantes and convinces Arkin to take them to the murderer’s lair. Trouble is, the hunters quickly become the prey because every inch of the facility is booby trapped.

It’s nice to see a slasher film where at least some of the characters are actively attempting to hunt and kill the bad guy. Too often, victims in such movies just passively wait to get picked off. On the whole, however, “The Collection” isn’t particularly inventive. The unnamed killer dispatches countless victims in horrible ways, moving ever-closer to a climactic showdown with Arkin, Lucello and Elena.

People who go to horror films primarily for the gore may find some enjoyment in “The Collector,” but fans of strong plotting and intellectual chills will be better served elsewhere.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Dunstan and co-writer Patrick Melton.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“A Royal Affair”: This historical drama was nominated for best foreign language film during the most recent Oscar race. Set during the reign of Danish King Christian VII, it tells the story of an affair between the queen and a royal physician. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel.

“Star Trek – Enterprise” – Season One: This prequel to the original “Star Trek” television series is finally receiving a high-definition Blu-ray release, meaning it’s sure to look better than ever before. The focus of the show is on Starfleet officers aboard the first Earth vessel capable of interstellar travel. Scott Bakula, Connor Trinneer, Jolene Blalock and Dominic Keating star.

“Veep” – The Complete First Season: The second season of this well-liked HBO comedy series begins airing next month. In the meantime, viewers can check out the 12 episodes presented here. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as a rising political star who discovers that life as vice president of the United States is not what she expected.

“Continuum” – Season One: Ten episodes of the Canadian science-fiction series about a future cop (Rachel Nichols) who is transported from 2077 to 2012 along with a group of terrorists. Living in a world that, to her, is ancient history, Rachel works to apprehend the criminals before they alter both the past and the future. Victor Webster and Erik Knudsen also star.

“The Borgias – The Original Crime Family” – The Second Season: Ten episodes of the Showtime drama about the Borgias family whose members held vast political and religious power during the turn of the 16th century. Jeremy Irons, Holliday Grainger, Francois Arnaud, David Oakes and Colm Feore star.

“LEGO Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Out”: Twenty-two minute, animated comedy from the folks at LEGO. The story is set after events depicted in the original “Star Wars” movie, and it focuses on Luke Skywalker, who is having trouble fulfilling his rebel duties because fanatical girls follow him everywhere. Another plot thread involves a rivalry between Darth Maul and Darth Vader

“A Man Escaped”: Freshly restored release of director Robert Bresson’s 1956 film about a member of the French resistance who is imprisoned by Nazis during World War II. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“Monsieur Verdoux”: Criterion Collection release of Charlie Chaplin’s 1947 film about an unemployed man who makes money by marrying wealthy women and murdering them. Chaplin is the writer, director and star.

“Mystery Science Theater 3000” – XXVI: Four episodes from the cult classic show where a man and his robot pals poke fun at bad movies. The films featured in this four-DVD set are “The Magic Sword,” “Alien From L.A.,” “Danger!! Death Ray” and “The Mole People.”

“IMAX – The Arctic”: This documentary film was originally presented in IMAX theaters, and it tells the survival story of a mother polar bear and her two cubs. Directed by Greg MacGillivray.

“The Carol Burnett Show – This Time Together”: Six-DVD set collecting 17 episodes of Burnett’s popular, 1960s and ’70s variety show. Series regulars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway join Burnett for the comedy hijinks.

“From Beyond”: Fresh release of the 1986 horror movie about scientists who unwittingly open the door to a terrifying parallel universe. The Stuart Gordon-directed film is based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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2 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘Lincoln,’ ‘Killing Them Softly,’ ‘Parental Guidance,’ ‘The Collection’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    I had a more mixed response to Lincoln. The acting is great and the period feel is spot on but I thought it would have been better as a miniseries. They tried to cram too much in. This oddly made it drag for me. I was a little bored and I say that as someone who grew up in Maryland and am a bit of a Civil War history buff. I wish there had been more about the battles and the strategy and less about the dizzying # of congressman and bureaucrats.
    Daniel Day Lewis was amazing but I didn’t love Sally Field. I thought she felt too old and just not as good as DDL (but who is). DDL put on a clinic of acting. I like that he showed how Lincoln was sick of compromising. Compromising had gotten the country in the mess it was in and it was time to make real change, not compromise. Love that.
    I loved Tommy Lee Jones and was so glad that the world learned about Thadeus Stevens who is a fascinating character in history.
    I also hated the John Williams score.
    But I still liked it. I’d give 3 stars.

    Like

  2. Obviously, I loved Lincoln, but I know others who feel like you did. Seems like some people find the political maneuvering boring. For some reason, I found it really intense… perhaps because of the parallels to today’s world.

    Like

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