Lincoln: Perhaps better titled “Thaddeus Stevens and the 13th Amendment”

There has been a great deal of anticipation and curiosity about how the reputable Daniel Day-Lewis would portray one of America’s most revered historical figures.  He most certainly does not disappoint, giving a whole-hearted performance as a thoughtful and worn Lincoln in the last grueling breaths of the Civil War.  Day-Lewis delivers soft-spoken anecdotes and quandaries with a concerned and exhausted yet warm tone that one could only imagine (and maybe hope) the real Lincoln carried in his voice.  It is difficult not to, on one hand, pity this poor, tired man in an impossible situation and, on the other, feel the power and charisma that only Day-Lewis could convey of such an iconic figure.

However, for a film named after the former president, it’s focus does not seem to be on his character and decisions during this crucial time in U.S. history. Rather, the film spends most of it’s time on the people and events surrounding the passing of the 13th Amendment.  Yes, Lincoln certainly played a significant role in this (which the film demonstrates), but more of the film’s gusto is found in Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Mister Jones, who will with out a doubt grab at least a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role, delivers with distinction and wit a passionate performance that grabs one’s attention away from even the powerful Day-Lewis.  Countless other recognizable faces make up Congress as well which creates a collectively strong and heated representation of what could have easily been a dry point in the film.  Considering the emphasis that is placed on Congress and the efforts made (legal and otherwise) to pass the Amendment, the film may have lost a great deal of it’s broader, non-history buff audience had there been a weaker cast.

In speaking of the cast, Sally Field’s performance as Mary Todd Lincoln cannot go un-praised.  This could not have been an easy character to approach as Mary Todd Lincoln’s biography is riddled with grief, physical pain and madness yet history suggests that, despite this, she held herself up as a rather dignified and authoritative first lady.  Fields walks this line quite well and is perhaps the most insightful glimpse the film offers into the painful home life of the Lincolns in the White House. Fields and Day-Lewis are a great match which comes at little surprise as both have a long list of fervent roles under their belts.

If what the director, Steven Spielberg, intended to show was the ingenious dancing that was performed by Lincoln and Congress to pass the 13th Amendment and end the Civil War, than he certainly succeeded.  One is left charmed by Lincoln and impressed by the drive of certain members of Congress at the time.  However, one walks away having enjoyed the film but not necessarily having been moved by what should be a moving and powerful event in U.S. history and Civil Rights.  This may be due, in part, to the fact that the film picks up a bit awkwardly late in the war (at least a year after the Gettysburg Address) and provides little evidence other than people’s being inspired by his speeches as to what  Lincoln was like at the start of the war.  This feels like something that, had it been included, would have attached the audience more to the character as Lincoln’s transformation over the course of those four years as a result of stress and unrelenting pressure was rather shocking.  It was clear that this was not intended to be another Civil War film but more of a character piece and, as a result, there was virtually no battle portrayed in the film.  While initially this felt to be a very necessary piece of the story that was left out, it really was positive move on Spielberg’s part.  Leaving this out was effective in putting the audience in the mindset of being on the political side of the war, rather than the more commonly portrayed soldier or homefront perspective, particularly as it related to Lincoln’s eager to join the fight son.  Glimpses of body-strewn battlefields and hospital scenes were enough to get the message across.

Lincoln is most definitely worth watching and a unique look into a subject that has otherwise been told and retold the same way for quite awhile.  It should just perhaps take on another title as it does not spend enough time on Lincoln to truly feel like a character piece, even with Day-Lewis as the lead.

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Skyfall: My kind of Bond

It is all too fitting that the first movie review I include in this blog would be that of the latest addition to one of my most favorite movie franchises, James Bond.  Many of us grew up with the Bond movies, be it through marathons of them on television around the holidays or anxiously awaiting the next of the series to hit theaters as was always guaranteed in the credits of it’s predecessor.  Either way, James Bond has been a staple piece of cinema and pop-culture for two and now stretching into three generations.  With that in mind, I would argue that director Sam Mendes’ contribution to the franchise, Skyfall, not only adds to this year’s list of cinematic feats but also contributes a great deal of class and quality to this year’s pop-culture.  In the midst of what has been a superhero heavy few years in film (with such blockbusters as The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Captain America, etc.- which have been excellent in their own respects), the new Bond film offers a more suave, classic and tasteful hero for movie-goers to embrace.

While Bond the character has certainly become a classic in the minds of many, Daniel Craig’s performance in the role takes 007 to new heights, proving further that he may be the best Bond to date.  Rather than portraying the character as the flawless, ever-confident and shameless ladies’ man, Craig gives us a Bond that is more true to that of the character portrayed in the original Ian Fleming books- a worn and slightly cynical yet charming and witty G-Man with unrelenting determination, all wrapped up in a sleek and sensual package. Stepping away from aspects of even his own previous portrayal (in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), he is slightly less brooding and ruthless this go around. One thing that has stayed consistent in Craig’s Bond is his impeccable style and presentation.  From racing motorcycles over rooftops in a Tom Ford suit to preparing for a showdown in a cashmere sweater and vintage leather jacket, his look is timeless and understated. Craig offers a certain degree of versatility to the role as well that is seldom seen in the portrayals of Bond before him, shifting from a smooth operator to a man with a past to the mother/son-like relationship he and M share with great ease.

Speaking of M, the lovely Dame Judy Dench continues her long run in this vital role and does not disappoint.  She and Craig play off each other marvelously, offering banter that builds both characters respectively as well as reveals a bond (no pun intended) between the two characters that has not been previously delved into prior to Casino Royale.  Dench, elegant and fiery as ever, delivers a confident performance that cannot go unnoticed.

Despite Craig and Dench’s stellar performances, the real show stealer of this film is it’s villain, Mister Silva, portrayed by Javier Bardem.  This is interesting considering he is not present in more than half the film, however, Bardem, who is no stranger to the psychotic villain role (having won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in No Country for Old Men), nails this unique yet somewhat Goldeneye-esque (think Sean Bean’s betrayed 006) character in a way that it doesn’t seem any other actor could.  Before the movie was over, Bardem stole my heart as my new favorite Bond bad guy.  Menacing and devout with just the right amount of humor and charisma, he is frighteningly believable.  At times one can find themselves almost pitying the character though this is quickly swept to the side by his borderline disturbing obsession.  This is the villain that Craig’s Bond has been waiting for.

As a whole, Skyfall is one of the most visually stunning and artful of the Bond films. Mendes takes his audience around the world in a manner that feels truly Bond: vivid and dreamlike, posh and sultry, over the top and in the shadows.  Pleasant surprises such as the appearance of Ralph Fiennes and anticipated revivals like the new Q (granted a much younger, more contemporary rendition of the character) made the long wait (nearly four years) for this film’s debute well worth it. Contemporary with just enough beautiful nostalgia, Skyfall offers a great deal to longstanding fans as well as first timers.  It is truly a Bond for the ages.

For the love of movies, for the love of my sanity

I never had the desire to start a blog and, frankly, was not even sure as to what a blog should be about until recently.  I decided to start a blog not so much out of the desire to write but out of the need to give one of my dearest passions, film, an application.  As I’m sure many others who write movie blogs will attest, I have been a film enthusiast (or maybe junkie is the better term in my case) since I was in Huggies sitting in front of the TV with a plastic bowl on my head and holding my stuffed sidekick, a very “well adventured” looking Mickey Mouse.  Well maybe not all other movie bloggers can relate to that last bit but you get the picture (and, unfortunately for me, if you know my parents you can get the picture in a much more literal way).  Since then, more days than not I find myself watching at least one movie.  Whether on the big screen or on my considerably smaller one at home, movies have always held a magic and fascination for me that, until now, I have not even thought to try to articulate.  It is in this regard that I write this blog to put to (hopefully) good use my love of movies.  I’ll be writing reviews as well as observations, interesting related tidbits and anything else I can do to give you, my reader, a feel for a movie and, perhaps, help you find some that may strike your interest.

I cannot say, however, that this blog is solely intended to hone my love of movies into something beneficial for others.  It is also a bit of a release for me, some “grad school therapy” if you will.  In the midst of research and thesis writing, a few distractions such as this are highly necessary to maintain one’s sanity.  “All work and no play makes Jackie a dull girl…”

Well I think that’s enough introduction, I hope you enjoy what you read here and please feel free to share your thoughts.

Happy movie watching all!