Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rated D - Lincoln

Four score and... uh... carry the one... sixty-seven years ago, our 16th President of the United States brought forth on this existing nation a new nation again conceived in liberty, and dedicated to reminding its citizens of the self-evident truth that ALL men are created equal.

Welcome Back to Rated D!

This week we bring you the ever-hurried and subpar review of a movie called "Lincoln".  SPOILER ALERT:  Abraham Lincoln and his constituents hurry to pass the 13th Amendment with a country as equally divided on the battle field and as in the House of Representatives.  SPOILER ALERT II:  He dies at the end.

It's that time of year!  Many movies we've heard about for months or maybe even years have already begun to flood the box offices with many more just over the horizon.  With this morning's announcement of the 2012 Golden Globe Nominations, it'll be no surprise if your news sources suddenly become inundated with talk of who is slated to win what and outrage over which was snubbed and so forth.  And for all of you Cornhuskers out there, you won't be disappointed to see a whole lot of "Lincoln" all over your screen.

Sorry to get your hopes up Nebraska, but you'll just have to keep waiting for the hard hitting flick "Lincoln: Not So Corny".  For now, we'll have to muddle through somehow with the humbly epic, historical drama "Lincoln".  This ambitious project, helmed by Hollywood Guru Stephen Spielberg (Schindler's List, Munich) has spent over a decade in the making, navigating the tumultuous show biz path of script revisions and casting concerns before stepping into the light, receiving critical acclaim as expected.  Knowing this, I, for one (because I have yet to clone myself), was surprised with the filmmaker's choice to take the life of a legend that we all know and scale it down to focus on his struggle to pass the 13th Amendment which would once and for all officially abolish slavery in the United States.

Following an extremely raw, but brief Civil War battle, two black soldiers, standing in the rain at night, talk to a quiet, attentive figure who sits alone on a wooden platform.  It's not exactly how you would expect a legend to be introduced, but it is impressively powerful as Spielberg reveals the man, Abraham Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine, Gangs of New York).  To say "played" might be wrong.  He just is Lincoln.  And if it's not the Lincoln you expect at first, you believe that was him by the end.  Like I said, the film stays on this level examining the personalities and politics of those struggling to pass the amendment or block its realization.  In place of grisly battle scenes and bloody combat, we instead split most of our time either debating with Republicans and Democrats in a tense House of Representatives or philosophizing and reasoning in the White House with Lincoln's Cabinet and Lincoln's Family.  It sounds dull explaining it, but one of my favorite scenes in the movie comes in one such moment while Lincoln delivers a long monologue, expertly discussing with himself the issue of emancipation of slaves as his executive right during war while exploring the notion of slaves as property, what that line of thinking means and how it, as a concept, affects his rights as a leader to make these decisions.  It's an insight into Lincoln's brilliant political mind that allows us to see that there is more to it than just saying that the situation is simply... wait for it... black and white.

The mission is complicated as Lincoln must procure more Democrat votes in a Republican heavy house to ensure that the amendment passes before the war ends, at which time the rejoined southern states will vote it down.  Meanwhile, Republican Party Founder Preston Blair, played by Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild, Judas Kiss), is adamant in trying (and most likely will succeed) in negotiating a swift, peaceful end to the conflict.  With the aid of Sec. of State William Seward, played by always solid David Strathairn (A League of Their Own, The River Wild) and others, we witness the less glamorous backdoor dealings and promises that existed then under Lincoln as we're sure they do today.  Enter our colorful band of misfits made up of James Spader (Secretary, The Watcher) and Tim Blake Nelson (O, Brother Where Art Thou?, Syriana), among others, who provide some much needed comic relief while taking on the job.

Equally important to the story is the struggle of "radical republican" Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones (MIB, The Fugitive), whose struggle to bring racial equality to all could be what his opponents use to defeat him.  Jones is excellent, hurling insults and demanding attention with little more than a messy wig and a cold black stare.

Even if at a few times the language and vocabulary can lose you, Tony Kushner's script, adapted from the book Team of Rivals, allows Day-Lewis, among others, to deliver a humanistic performance of the legendary figure that shows a brilliant mind, great strength, and an unmatched endurance against a crushing guilt.  Lacking a little against the rest of the plot are the moments between Mary Todd, played by Sally Field (Mrs. Doubtfire, Forrest Gump), and his eager to enlist son, Robert, played by Joseph Gordon-Livett (Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises).  The scenes are emotionally charged and the performances are good, but the film ultimately belongs to Day-Lewis.  His voice, mannerisms, and unaddressed pain are so natural that you simply forget that underneath the excellent hair, make-up, and beautiful costumes is simply an excellent British actor.

D's Recommendation - 4 out of 5 - Cause you just can't get enough Democrat vs. Republican hatin' in 2012

"Hail to the Chief"
Movies featuring U.S. Presidents

1.  The American President (1995) - Ah, yes, the simple premise that inspired Clinton to ask, "What happens when the President starts dating in the White House?"  It's a smart-romantic-drama-comedy by Aaron Sorkin who used the left over material to get "The West Wing" made and it's directed by Rob Reiner. American President?  More like Ameri-they just did President!  No, no.  It's "The American President".

2.  Dave (1993) - Kevin Kline delights (NOTE: I tried for a really long time to find a more appropriate less dainty word, so... yeah, I get it) as the President's doppleganger in this feel-good comedy.  However, it does seem like the evil version of this movie is the plot of "GI Joe 2: Retaliation".

3.  My Fellow Americans (1996) - I guess we liked making movie about presidents in the 90s.  It's a zany comedy about two former Presidents from each end of the political spectrum who must team up to avoid assassination after getting wrapped up in a crazy, government conspiracy.  Jack Lemmon and James Garner are great at each others throats and they take us on a pretty fun trip.

4.  Swing Vote (2008) - Kevin Costner is the one man who will decide the fate of the country.  Nope, we're not talking about "The Postman", Tom Petty, we're talking about this politcal poking comedy.  With a great premise and solid acting, there's some great comedy in this flick, especially between Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper as the reluctantly vicious candidates.  However, it kinda goes to a really... really dark place, for a farcical comedy... which is okay, except it never fully makes its way back out.

5.  Air Force One (1997) - Gary Oldman is a Russian Terrorist.  Harrison Ford is a kick-ass Commander-in-Chief.  William H. Macy... is also there.  You should have already seen this movie.  If you haven't, turn on TNT or TBS.  It's probably on right now.

Rated DVD -
The Dark Knight Rises-
In case you missed it, the epic reboot of Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise came to an end this summer with a bang.  Long... Long Story Short:  Batman has emerges from the shadows eight years after the events of "The Dark Knight" to take on the Terrorist/Mercenary Bane and once and for all extinguish the flame of the League of Shadows.  Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, the morally ambiguous, leather-clad "Cat" burglar, joins the cast in the final installment and lots of old favorites return once more.

For the most part, it is an awesome ride and is a satisfying end.  Far more satisfying in fact than most trilogies.  I had a few problems with it and still nitpick over a couple of Nolan's choices, but after re-watching it on a plane the other night, I still found the ride to be enjoyable and have really enjoyed his take on the Batman story.

Next Time on Rated D...
The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey - Boy, Bilbo Baggins begginings better be good.  Hmm... Why didn't I use a B word at the end?  Let me try again.  Boy, Bilbo Baggins begginings better be good, bitches!  That's better.

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