“Lincoln” (PG-13): Any fears that Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” would be a preachy epic will fall away for teens who see this extraordinarily entertaining movie about Abraham Lincoln’s struggle in early 1865 to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Daniel Day-Lewis’ magical, bone-deep Lincoln portrait is alternately – and sometimes simultaneously – kind, sly, funny, courageous, and briefly, thunderously angry. Tony Kushner’s stunning script was partly inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” about Lincoln and his Cabinet. Lucky as flies on the wall, we watch as the president conspires with Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) to reel in votes in the House of Representatives through blatant offers of patronage to get the amendment passed before the end of the Civil War and before Lincoln’s second inauguration. He wants the abolishment of slavery to be a done deal before he makes peace. A trio of smarmy political operatives played by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson start courting congressmen. All this unfolds amid the Lincolns’ difficult but, as portrayed here, loving marriage, with Mary Todd Lincoln (wonderful Sally Field) unable to stop grieving over the loss of their son Willie. The president understands but can’t help. The debates in the House are gripping, and Tommy Lee Jones steals scenes as bewigged Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, an Abolitionist who hurls hilarious insults at opponents. A couple of scenes seem contrived or superfluous, but most of “Lincoln” is divine.
Three scenes make “Lincoln” problematic for some middle schoolers: One shows soldiers knee-deep in a muddy battlefield, fighting intensely but nongraphically with bayonets; another shows Lincoln riding through a battlefield seeing endless bodies, at least one graphically gutted; and the third shows Lincoln’s son Robert watching as a wheelbarrow full of severed limbs is dumped near an army hospital while his father visits amputees inside. Characters (though not Lincoln) smoke, drink, and cuss colorfully. The N-word is heard often, with other racial insults. A marital fight between the Lincolns feels so genuine, it is truly upsetting. They also discuss mental illness.
“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” (PG-13): Teens in love with the books by Stephenie Meyer and the four preceding PG-13 films based on them will not be disappointed in this final finale. (The fourth book was made into two films.) Bella (Kristen Stewart), new bride of vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), has become a full-fledged vampire instead of a groupie. She’s now endowed with super-strength and senses, intensifying the steamy-dreamy but nongraphic sexual charge between her and Edward, which has fueled the entire series. As the film opens, she wakes from a difficult pregnancy and childbirth. Her eyes are now vampire-red and she has a thirst for blood. Bella finally sees her baby, Renesmee. The infant is a human-vampire hybrid because Bella was human when she was conceived. Renesmee grows very fast (played as an older child by Mackenzie Foy). Bella’s friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a werewolf, imprinted on Renesmee while Bella was unconscious. Bella fumes at that, but Edward makes her understand that Renesmee needs Jacob as a protector. That becomes clear after a vampire from another coven mistakes Renesmee for an “immortal child” – a human child who has been turned into a vampire. That is a capital crime in the vampire world because immortal children can’t keep their vampire natures secret. The Cullens call in vampire friends to testify on Renesmee’s behalf before the ruling Volturi Clan and their leader Aro (Michael Sheen). The confrontation could turn violent and destroy the Cullen Clan forever.
While bloodless, the battle scenes among vampires show heads torn off, and some of the immortal creatures set ablaze. A few werewolves who join the fight alongside the Cullens also get hurt or die bloodlessly. When one Cullen ally causes a huge crevasse to open on the battlefield, some vampires and werewolves fall to their deaths. The sexual charge between Bella and Edward increases a bit in this film, as it has incrementally in every film. There is really only one bedroom scene, but it is stylized and nonexplicit. At other moments, the pair kiss passionately and joke nonexplicitly about the violence of their lust. The newly transformed Bella, trying to sate her thirst for blood early in the film, nearly kills a deer, but a snarling mountain lion leaps into the frame. The camera cuts away, but one guesses the predator cat loses its life while the deer survives.