Month: February 2013

The 85th Annual Academy Awards

THE BROADCAST

Billy Crystal’s movie parodies brought a little of it.  Having Snoop Doggy Dogg piloting the airship from “The Mummy” is a perfect example, and fans of Crystal’s hosting have always placed these sucked-into-the-movies bit as the highlight of his broadcasts.  But then the rest of the show would fit into the same routine pattern of light roasting, back patting, often bizarre musical number, and then a sinkhole of political messages and flagrant attempts by the Academy to prove it’s value.

This year was a bit different.  And yet it wasn’t so different that it wrecked everything.  This year’s Oscars was the first truly post-modern show.

You see, in the post-modern era, we can sample from the past and create something new.  We can be self-deprecating and laugh at ourselves without subtracting meaning.  And we can show appreciation for what only a little while ago would have seemed old fashioned and out of style.

Think about it, so much of what happened last night would have been deemed inappropriate just a few years ago.  (Actually, critics from publications such as The New Yorker and LA Times seemed to be a bit behind the times and found everything immature and in violation of the sanctimonious proceedings.)

I understand that not everyone is going to be in favor of this type of show, and there’s a really simple way to find out if you’re one of those people.  Imagine that an Oscar host has a conversation with Captain Kirk via a giant screen on stage, and he’s told that he ruined the show by singing an immature, horrible song.  Now, imagine that they cut to that song, which is a song and dance number listing actresses and the most famous films in which you can see their breasts.  The tuxedo and top hate routine, called “I Saw Your Boobs,” which included a rousing chorus from the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Choir, was pretty much the first thing that happened.

I’m generally not a fan of Seth MacFarlane.  I find his work to be hit-and-miss with an emphasis on the latter, but I’ve always said that his hits are on point.  Last night, MacFarlane’s hard work paid off, and he helped create and execute the best broadcast in recent history.

The thing is, he didn’t just go for laughs.  The key to his success was that he did not pander.  He simply performed, and the show seemed mostly wish fulfillment for him.  His harshest critics have pointed this out, but they underestimate how powerful this was for the audience.  MacFarlane chatted with Shatner, danced with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe, sang as Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron danced oh-so-beautifully for us, looked like a friggin’ movie star in his tux, made fun of himself and his body of work, even did one of his patent cutaway gags to parody a classic film before introducing one of it’s stars.  He basically did all of the things WE would want to do as a host!  Despite being a part of the industry for so long, he isn’t a part of the hierarchy.  He’s an outsider that brought fresh perspective to eighty five years of history, and he was somehow able to do it with what I felt was the perfect balance of crass and class.

The Oscars have long attempted to appeal to a broader crowd, and it’s always been awkward.  From Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin telling jokes about how old they were while referencing things that the kids are into to Chris Rock wondering aloud if being white was all it took to make Jude Law famous to James Franco doing. . .  Well, whatever the hell he was doing.

Finally we live in a time where Barbara Streisand can sing “The Way We Were” without it being ironic.  We live in a time where the Oscars can borrow from “Dancing with the Stars,” “Family Guy,” and classical musicals of the silver screen all at the same time.

MY FAVORITE PART

While there were so many great moments over the course of the evening, including the James Bond tribute and some very touching acceptance speech moments, to me, the most beautiful moment came during the tribute to musicals.  Catherine Zeta-Jones kicked it all off atop a piano, magically recreating her award-winning role from “Chicago.”  The years seemed to melt away right before our eyes.  Even if the lip-syncing rumors prove credible, the fact remains that she was just as stunning and vibrant as she was eleven years ago.  Jennifer Hudson came out next, stirring up “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls.”  She destroyed that song and the audience.  It was a performance that not many people on earth could ever hope to give, and it brought the audience to it’s feet.  And then the cast of “Les Miserables” came out and brought it all home with their nominated tune.  They caused you to lean forward in your seat and bathe in their voices.

That’s the part I liked the most.  You see, after Jennifer Hudson rocked the theater with her powerful pipes, I’m sure Hugh Jackman found the nearest person backstage and asked, “I have to follow that, mate?”  And he did without missing a beat.  He did.  Anne Hathaway did.  So did Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Coen.  And so did Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, and Samantha Barks (who I think was robbed a nomination alongside Hathaway).  And most importantly to me – so did Russell Crowe.

I actually liked the way Russell Crowe performed his part in that film.  He bellows with authority and a twinge or two of rock and roll.  He emboldens his character and sings like a hunter squinting through a sharpshooter’s iron sights.  But I’m definitely in the minority in my opinion.  Unlike going into the production of the film, Russell Crowe went into this live performance knowing that the critics aren’t fond of the way he sings.  He knew he would be mercilessly scrutinized by them, his peers, and the billion people at home.  And he did it anyway.

ONE LINERS

“Welcome to the Oscars, and the quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh.”
-Seth MacFarlane’s opening line, which succeeded in getting the laughter he desired, which itself got loud applause.

“It’s not your fault, Ben.”
-Seth MacFarlane admitting that the Academy knew it screwed up in snubbing Ben Affleck from the Best Director nominations.  This line is a parody of Affleck’s Oscar winning screenplay “Good Will Hunting.”

“There was a lot of controversy over the multiple uses of the ‘N word’ in the film. I’m told the film was loosely based on Mel Gibson’s voice mail.”
– Seth MacFarlane, about best picture nominee “Django Unchained.”

“She said to me, I really hope I don’t lose to that old lady … Jennifer Lawrence.”
Seth MacFarlane, about 9-year-old “Beasts” star Quvenzhané Wallis.

“Since we got married 16 years ago, my wife Rebecca has lived with some very strange men.  She’s the versatile one in the family.  She’s been a perfect companion to all of them.”
– Daniel Day-Lewis, during his acceptance speech for Best Actor.

“You have to work harder than you think you possibly can. You can’t hold grudges. It’s hard, but you can’t hold grudges. And it doesn’t matter how knocked down you get in life, because that’s going to happen. All that matters is that you gotta get up.”
– Ben Affleck, during his acceptance speech for Best Picture

ON A VERY SPECIAL EPISODE OF…

You can generally look to the Honorary Oscars to see what the theme of the year’s Oscars will be.  This year, they gave the awards to George Stevens Jr (who founded the AFI), stuntman Hal Needham, and documentary filmmaker D.A Pennebaker.  To me, this signified that the Academy was paying tribute to the importance of film.  Honestly, this is the theme every broadcast should have, and you would think it would always be the main focal point.  It is a breath of fresh air when they can get past trying to prove that movies have meaning and simply celebrate the meaning of film.

It all culminated with Jack Nicholson’s nontraditional introduction of Best Picture.  He commented about how the category was traditionally presented by a single person, and then introduced his co-presenter who would help him via live video directly from the White House.

My initial thought was, “I guess ‘Lincoln’ won after all!”  I mean, the Golden Globes brought out Bill Clinton to give the movie based on the greatest American president it’s due.  Now that we have had an actual black president take the White House and only an idiot stuck in the 1990’s would continue to give that obtuse distinction to Clinton, how amazing to have the first black first lady to honor this great film about the fight for the Thirteenth Amendment?!

But that would have been a forced message, and in the post-modern Oscars, that would have seemed way too forced.

Instead, Michelle Obama gave a reasonably impassioned speech about how films do have importance whether they make us cry, laugh, get inspired, or not.  Movies are a part of what makes America great, and these nine nominees are the greatest examples in 2013.  It was just that simple.

ALSO DEAD

They always leave people off the memoriam.  This year, the following people were missing:

Richard Dawson
Phyllis Diller
David R. Ellis
Andy Griffith
Larry Hagman
Jack Hanlon
Ann Rutherford
Donna Summer

WHO GOT OSCAR GOLD?

BEST PICTURE
Argo

BEST ACTOR
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

BEST ACTRESS
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

BEST DIRECTOR
Ang Lee, Life of Pi

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Chris Terrio, Argo

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Brave

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Searching for Sugar Man

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Inocente, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine

BEST FILM EDITING
Argo, William Goldenberg

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Amour, Austria

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Les Misérables, Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Skyfall” from Skyfall, Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Lincoln, Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Paperman, John Kahrs

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Curfew, Shawn Christensen

BEST SOUND EDITING
Skyfall, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers
Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N.J. Ottosson

BEST SOUND MIXING
Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Life of Pi, Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott

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West Siiiiide Story

WEST SIDE STORY starts off with an eagle’s eye view of New York City’s urban sprawl.  The opening number is done on actual city streets before we are taken to a sound stage.  The controlled environment has a gritty, chipped, and graffiti soaked production design, and yet, the lighting and mood is set by theatrical lighting cues.  Our actors are covered in sweat and grime and dirt.  And yet, as has been parodied many times, the Jets and Sharks battle through ballet, leaping and vaulting, on pointed toes.

To me this is a perfect film that deserves it’s ten Academy Awards, which includes Best Picture.  But it’s definitely a product of it’s time.  In 1961, you could adapt a play straight from Broadway and graft music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Steven Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins into a stunning cinematic showcase of incredible, legendary talent.  In 1961, you could tell a story in the slang of the time without lacing it with profanity.  In 1961, you could cast a white movie star that can’t sing, paint her brown, pass her off as Puerto Rican, and just have her lip-sync.  But that was the modern era, and we are in the post-modern era, where we spend all of our time examining, laughing at, and being nostalgic for the modern era.

In the post-modern era, musicals tend to shy away from lingering long shots and hide all of the work put into the dance by obscuring it with ADD-addled jump-cut close-ups.  In the post-modern era, musicals almost beg forgiveness for having their characters break-out in song.  Post-modern musicals wish to free themselves from the self-aware nature of all that went before, but instead they have become overly self-conscience.

In reality, while movies have changed significantly since the 60’s, the musical hasn’t really evolved much since then.  The 80’s were promising.  Movies like “The Blues Brothers” and “This is Spinal Tap!” took the spontaneous numbers to more anchored places.  Their singing because they’re on stage.  Or in a church.  Or at a music store.  Or . . . in a diner.  But never in a car chase!  This continued into more recent times with “School of Rock,” “Ray,” and “Walk the Line.”  But it never took.

Nope.  The gate keepers have decided that the musical is dead.  Singing should only be reserved for cartoons, and maybe not even then!

That’s why “High School: The Musical,” “Glee,” “Smash,” “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” and anything with The Muppets or Bollywood have bombed.  People can’t stand that whole singing thing!  It’s out-dated, unbelievable, and ruins what would otherwise be a perfectly good movie about a guy with a machine gun who can hit every martian without reloading while they can’t get their blasters or phasers to even come close!  Movies aren’t supposed to transport us to exotic dreamscapes.  They’re supposed to be dark, solemn, and logical.  Like Batman!

Despite the fact that mother would parody the music from “My Fair Lady” as she beat me*, I’ve been a fan of musicals since I was a small boy.  From Gershwin to Rogers and Hammerstein to Ashman and Menken to Parker and Stone, I’ve fallen in love with so much great stuff.  One of my favorite performances by an actor ever was James Cagney as George M. Cohen in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”  One of my top ten favorite films of all time is “Little Shop of Horrors,” and the Dentist has been a dream role of mine ever since I first saw Steve Martin pull Bill Murray’s tooth.  I even took a Broadway Musical class in high school, and not just because I would be the only guy surrounded by the twenty amazingly hot girls.  I genuinely appreciate the material, and I want to see it make it’s comeback.

That brings us back to “West Side Story.”

I recently had a random urge to see this film on the big screen, but I had no idea how that would happen.  Almost as though Oprah’s book club sprinkled it’s “Secret” magic dust on my thoughts, the theater where I work announced it was going to show it!  I was bummed out that I was scheduled to work today, because I originally thought I was going to miss it.  Turns out my shift ended a mere fifteen minutes before the movie was scheduled to start.  Call it fate.  Call it karma.  I believe everything happens for a reason.

Sorry.  Slipped into “Ghostbusters” for a second there.

I hadn’t watched the movie since I was a kid, and while “Jet Song,” “Maria,” “Officer Krupke,” “America,” and “Cool” have been stuck in my head periodically since then, I had forgotten so much.  I remembered the bold colors, the finger snapping, and the story lifted from “Romeo and Juliet.”  But I didn’t recall – or maybe I hadn’t noticed – John Astin’s aw-shucks scene stealing, the undertones of domestic distress in the Jets’ home lives, or the biting racism the Sharks were facing.  Even the cops duplicitous in “keeping the spics out.”  This film has not lost an ounce of it’s relevance.

And yet, I wonder how many young people are willing to sit down and give it a try.  They’d have to go in knowing that it’s essentially a ballet with a ton of romanticized singing and stylized violence.  I’d encourage anyone with an open mind to watch this film.  It is a masterpiece.

But for the rest, perhaps it is time we brought the movie into the post-modern era, and maybe we could finally officially bring back the musical in the process.  I propose a “West Side Story” remix.  In my opinion, it would take at least two embedded music producers to bring this vision to life.

Instead of New York City, our setting would be Los Angeles.  Perhaps around the times of the riots in the 1990’s, but I’d prefer to just give similar context in present day.  The Jets would be made up of a much more familiar urban street gang.  They’d be predominantly black, but there should be a few other races mingled in.  These are Americans whose ancestors immigrated long ago, either by choice or force.  Whether the Mayflower, slave ships, or economic turmoil brought them to our shores, they feel like they own their community.  The Sharks should be an intimate community that has not assimilated well to their surroundings.  They shouldn’t speak the language well if at all, but despite that, they should be thriving.  Members of their community should own the corner store, the laundromat, the gas stations.  They could be Korean or Middle Eastern or Chinese.  Either way, much like real life, they should have a code that prevents them from cooperating with or trusting in the police.  And that feeling should go both ways, which shouldn’t be too hard with the LAPD.

The plot should remain the same.  Much of the dialogue can stay the same, although it should be brought up to speed from beatnik.  Now, all you have to do is modernize the music and dance, justify the almost quaint notions that the violence is escalating from fists to gun play, and convince a jaded audience that love can bloom in two days, and you’ve got a hit on your hands.  We have never had a musical that wasn’t afraid to flow from a full-fledged rhythm and blues song to a hip hop joint to world music to. . .  anywhere!

You see, in the modern era, the musical was confined to rather limited musical taste, but in the post-modern era, our iPods have limitless potential.  Our times thrive on variety, and all the world is literally at our fingertips.

* “I could have danced all night.  I could have danced all night.  And still have begged for more.” became “I’m going to beat my kids.  I’m going to beat my kids.  Until they’re bruised and sore.”  or something like that.  My memories are a bit fuzzy on the details.

Star Wars: An Even Newer Hope

So we’ve all been paying attention to the Star Wars news, and it’s been rather exciting.  I don’t want to talk too much about it all in this post.  I would just like to create a dream list of 10 directors and pontificate possible plots for each.

Let’s go!

First, the SURE THING and my take on it.

J.J. Abrams – We’ve already heard Mr. Abrams will be helming the next SW movie, and we’ve heard about what the next two films will focus on.  I personally hope J.J. takes us on the Boba Fett adventure.
JJ AbramsBoba Fett

And now, my WISHLIST!! (In no particular order.)

1. Joss Whedon – The other movie will focus on Han Solo, and I think Mr. Whedon would best serve this one.  I’d like to see an Indy style opener that shows us Chewie’s escape from the salt mines before a new buddy epic brings these two rogues together.  And I’d like to meet some other unique characters for Joss to flesh out.  As far as Han, I wish Heath Ledger were still alive to play the part, but Ryan Reynolds, Joseph Gordon Levitt, or Nathan Fillian would serve.
Joss WhedonHan and Chewie

2. Sam Raimi – Could you imagine a Sam Raimi vision of the Dark Side?  It would put the scary back into what has become emo.  Unless he taps his Spiderman 3 joo-joo, which I can only imagine was done to spite an uncooperative studio.  I’d like to see a Vader/Emperor rise of the Empire story.  Nothing origin inducing.  Just a cool, dark story told in that period.
Sam RaimiDarth Vader and Emperor Palpatine

3. Kenneth Branagh – Those of us who played Knights of the Old Republic know the potential of a story told an even longer time ago in a galaxy far a way.  Branagh is the master of Shakespearean wit and whimsy on film, and this era would feel ancient and yet verile in his hands.  And, Ken, please give us some HK-47!
Keneth BranaghHK-47

4. Tim Burton – I know this might come as a shock to some of you.  I’ve not always been so kind to Burton, but he has made two of my favorite movies (“Big Fish” and “Ed Wood”).  And I also liked a couple others quite a bit (“Beetlejuice” and “Mars Attacks”).  I just think he’s lost his passion of late, and I feel like a good script doesn’t matter much to him.  It’s often style without substance, but I think a Star Wars movie might be the challenge he needs to push himself further.  And let’s be honest, though we’ve seen enough Burton/Carter/Depp collaborations, we’d all like to see one with lightsabers and Dagobah swamps!  I have no clue what their movie should be about, but I’d kill to see Johnny Depp banter with Yoda!
Dagobah

5. Gore Verbinski – His “Pirates” movies started off light and fun and got dark and plodding.  I’d love to see the style and charm of the first brought to Star Wars, and the style of the others would be a great fit for the scenes with the baddies.  I think Gore would be ideal with a prequel era tale that let’s us see less of Jar Jar type antics and more of pod racers, droids, clones, and Darth Maul.
Gore VerbinskiDarth Maul

6. Jon Favreau – His Iron Man movies were phenomenal, and “Zathura” showed he’s handy with ship-in-the-bottle space epics.  I’d like to see him expand that vision and shower us with a Droids adventure.  Please redeem C3PO’s legacy, and show us the heroism of R2D2.
Jon Favreau

7. Frank Oz – Yoda himself. His library of directed films shows you how capable he is. “The Dark Crystal,” “Indian in the Cupboard,” “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” and one of my top ten favorite films, “Little Shop of Horrors.” The man can create a believable universe with a universe of possibilities. Dude made Kermit ride a bike, he can make Darth Vader cool again! I see a self contained story here. One that takes a young Padawan adventurer on a quest through familiar and new locations. An added bonus if he or she is trying to be light sided but finds that they are an unwitting tool for evil!

 

8. Steven Spielberg – One can dream, right? And as long as he’s truly autonomous, he’ll handle the material with ease. In other words, Steven, don’t let George influence you too much here. I’d love to see a cross between “Jurassic Park” and “Minority Report.” Pack it with interesting characters, a gripping adventure, and a moral quandary of some sort, and we’ve got a hit! I’d personally like to see a Shadows of the Empire era story from Steven. One that brings back Harrison, Mark, Carrie, and Billy Dee to push along the dramatic narrative but focuses on their kids for the action.
Old Luke Skywalker

9. Lawrence Kasdan – I know that Disney has asked the writer of “Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to come on board as a consultant, but come on! Thanks to the focus on George Lucas with Star Wars and both Lucas and Spielberg for Indiana Jones, this man is one of the most underrated talents in Hollywood. It always kills me when people forget to give credit to Mr. Kasdan and Irvin Kershner. In my opinion, it’s time for Lawrence to shine! He proved he can handle an epic action flick with “Silverado,” and he certainly doesn’t lack from other directing credits. Dude even wrote the “Shadows of the Empire” video game! If Disney is serious about yearly installments, he is the obvious choice to direct one of these exploits! I would not presume to tell Lawrence what to write or how, but I will say this. This is Harrison Ford and Lawrence Kasdan’s chance to finally wrap up Han’s story the way they wanted to in Jedi!
Lawrence KasdanLuke, Leia, and Han

This last spot will be a hard one to fill. There are so many great names I could drop here. Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson, Brad Bird, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher, Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, or Kathryn Bigelow. Heck! Even Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Spike Lee, or Clint Eastwood!! Each of these directors would make such an interesting work of art from the world George Lucas big banged. And that’s kind of the point. The possibilities are endless!!

But I’d like to go out with a dark horse. A perfect storm that simply will never happen.

10. Martin Scorsese – I mean, I guess it could happen. He is an extremely commercial filmmaker, and he did make “Hugo” for the kids. But I don’t want a movie for the kids. I want a Jabba the Hut gangster flick that shows us the seedy underbelly of the Hut empire. I want to see the bloody racketeering, the intimidation, the Rancor pit gambling, and the hit list in action. I want to see Count Dooku wake up with a tauntaun head in his bed. I want to see DeNiro as a Mon Calamari and Daniel Day Lewis as a Rodian teamed up to control the supply of cilona-extract death sticks in the Bakura system. I want to see Joe Pesci beat down a Twi’lek stripper. Let’s make it happen, Disney!!

 

    Okay. Now it’s your turn! Who would you like to see with the reigns of Star Wars? And what would you like to see them come to the table with? Even if it’s someone I mentioned here, I’d love to hear your thoughts!!

Star Wars

Here Comes the Cries

I had a dream I was supposed to get married today. I had no suit, no money, nowhere to take my bride for our honeymoon. The food was being provided out of love by my mother, but for some reason she thought it was my wish to have squid for an appetizer. I wanted to call my girlfriend, but I knew that was bad luck. So I just sat on the toilet and cried. My brother came into the bathroom, which was some huge room, to get dressed. He kept telling me to make the best of it. I pointed at my pants and said, “See these? These are my best pants, and they’re covered in butter!” Andrew G Grant wanted to be in the wedding, but we were so ill prepared that I hadn’t even sorted that out yet. The date had rushed up on me and left me stunned. I looked in the mirror at myself and wept, my pants still undone from my extended stay on the toilet, and I said aloud to myself, “See?! This is why I want to make my money BEFORE I get married.”

Eating squid in my work pants…Image

Hollywood’s History Lessons: Argo and Lincoln

ARGO

Ben Affleck has been sweeping the awards, earning statues for his direction of this film.  But he won’t be getting an Oscar.  Not without the nomination, he won’t.  I couldn’t tell you why this capable film has not earned him the nod, but I can guess that Hollywood is still checking his taste after reading his credits.  It’s a shame too.  The man has paid his dues, and he’s obviously sharpened his skills to be able to penetrate with such a keen point.

Argo as a history lesson is not a complete one.  I won’t go into the details, because I don’t like to give out spoilers in my reviews.  Let’s just say that the movie ups the stakes for the sake of telling an edge of your seat story.  And maybe that’s the point.  You see, if they showed all of the people that were helping and relied simply on the actual events of history, the film would not have gotten the point across.  These six people were in grave danger, and all those who risked their lives to help them were subject to the slippery hands of death.  And that’s where it gets tricky.

You see, when telling a story that actually happened, you have the choice to tell it exactly as it was and possibly never convey the underlying tension or to embellish.  There is a distinct difference when a film says it is “A True Story” and when it says that it is “Based Upon a True Story,” although in truth, I don’t believe most filmmakers know the difference when claiming the former.  The danger does not come in what you leave out; rather, what could make or break your historical drama is in what you choose to add.  (See my review of “The Impossible” for some of my thoughts on what not to do.)  In this, despite the controversy that comes with the choices the filmmakers made here, I think “Argo” does it right.

The biggest hurdle to jump in telling a story like this is that we probably know how it ends.  Despite that fact, you must compel the audience further along, enticing them with tidbits and obstacles and insight.  I was born in 1979.  I was an infant when this tale unfolded under the headlines.  I felt like I was transported back in time and allowed to gaze into the eyes of men and women who were alive and vital when I was still in the cradle, and for that I thank Mr. Affleck.

And I even forgive him for “Daredevil.”

Although I really did like that scene where he discovered his powers.  It was quiet and subtle and felt real.  I am so glad that Ben has found his power.

Overall: 9.5/10

LINCOLN

Lincoln

If you weren’t paying attention, you might say that historical drama is not Steven Spielberg’s specialty.  He’s known for making culture defining pop like “E.T.,” “Jaws,” and the Indiana Jones series.  Those who pay more mind to the credits at the end of a film might think the king of movies was a turncoat, leaving behind his more commercially profitable blockbusters for Oscar-bait since he won his first Academy Award for “Schindler’s List.”  But those of us fully in the S.S. (bad choice of words, considering) know that this master has no specialty aside from making really great movies.  And really bad comedies (see “1941;” though I’d like to see Steven give it another go!).

Here’s a man that won the Irving G. Thalberg Award a mere 12 years into his feature film career.  He cut his teeth on television for six years before that, and before that, he was making movies with his dad’s old 8 mm camera.  He is a great man.

Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand. . .  Well, from what I understand, he fought vampires.  Unfortunately, history will never remember him for what he really did for this country.  Sadly, he will only be remember as the Great Emancipator who preserved the Union.

*Why do people insist blockbusters have any validity whatsoever when compared to pure cinema?  But I digress.*

What could more exciting than one of the greatest filmmakers ever making a film about America’s greatest president?  He paints with light and shadow on a canvas of digital celluloid, bringing to life the colorful, homespun nature of his subject and the menagerie of personalities that populated his world.  Whether ambitious or timid, practiced or green, well-mannered or unkempt, cunning or take-me-as-I-am, light or dark, these characters are real.  They stagger to life before us and fret with realistic expectations and motivations that do not come solely from the script.  This world is fleshed out and three dimensional.

The reality is that there is no other filmmaker alive that could have told this story the way it was presented to us.  Every part is played perfectly by brilliant actors that rose to the direction of their leader.  They labored to find the moment of truth in their moments on the screen, and whether they stood chatting briefly in the rain or stood before Congress, each gave the performance of a lifetime.

Again, the historians have every reason to cry fowl over the details.  The drama is heightened in each intimate situation in order to convey the overall difficulties of a nation at war, a complex political chess match, and a family under the burden of all.  Sure, the war didn’t hinge on every move Lincoln and his team made, but the nation did.  How else do you show the audience that?

Aside from getting face time with those who made one of the greatest decisions in this nation’s history, the greatest accomplishment of this film is in taking the time to reveal the quiet man under the marble memorials.  We are given an audience with the chiefest commander, afghan over his shoulders, head slumped forward, notes in his hat, hands on his knees.  We are with him as he gets on his hands and knees and gently stokes the fire.  We are left to guess at his motivations, marvel at his few words, and puzzle at his parables.  This Lincoln is no Atticus Finch impersonation, no ax swinger, no watered down reading of some speech.  He, and all those around him, are reflections in the waters of history brought to life by a magician.

Overall: 10/10