Lincoln

DreamWorks Pictures

Rated PG-13 for gruesome images, brief profanity, ethnic slurs and an intense scene of war violence.

Civil War Docudrama Revisits Great Emancipator’s Team Of Rivals

At the beginning of his presidency, Abraham Lincoln invited three of his political opponents to join his Cabinet to form a so-called “Team Of Rivals” with the hope of preserving the Union. But the challenges proved to be insurmountable, as the Southern states seceded anyway, leading to the outbreak of the Civil War.

By late 1864, much blood had been spilled and the sides seemed as bitterly divided as they had been at the start of the conflict. Even holding the contending factions inside the surviving coalition together came courtesy of compromise, which explains why the Emancipation Proclamation freed the Confederacy’s slaves but none in any of the Union’s four, remaining slave states.

Based on Harvard historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 944-page opus Team Of Rivals, Lincoln telescopes tightly on the last five months of the Great Emancipator’s life, a period during which he was desperately devoted to both abolishing slavery and reuniting the country by ending the Civil War. The movie was directed by Steven Spielberg, and bears many of the legendary director’s trademark visual effects like blowing curtains and light flares.

The production is first-rate in terms of cast, from Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role to a stellar supporting ensemble, which includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader, David Strathairn, Gloria Reuben, S. Epatha Merkerson, Hal Holbrook, Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley and Bruce McGill. Nor did Spielberg scrimp when it came to costuming or set design, which means the film feels authentic and never hits a false note.

The picture basically revolves around Lincoln’s twisting elbows to get the two-thirds vote in Congress necessary to pass the 13th Amendment ending slavery. This means most of the movie focuses on exercising his powers of persuasion, promising (sometimes with his fingers crossed) whatever it takes to induce reluctant fellow Republicans and adversaries from across the aisle to support his historic measure.

The President is helped in this regard by his Secretary Of State, William Seward (Strathairn) who, in turn, enlists the assistance of Congressmen Bilbo (Spader), Latham (Hawkes) and Schell (Nelson). And already counted on for their votes are long-time liberals like Thaddeus Stevens (Jones) and James Ashley (David Costabile).

This flick doesn’t feature any epic battle scenes or even Lincoln’s assassination, but lots and lots of talking. The conversation-driven docudrama winds what passes for tension around the fait accompli of whether or not the president’s bill will pass.

While watching talking heads exchanging dialogue from Team Of Rivals might delight history buffs, it’s unfortunately likely to test the patience of kids without a two and a half hour attention span unless it involves action and special effects. Is it worth the investment? Yes, but not if you’re expecting anything more than a poignant portrait of Lincoln’s last days, time spent as a marked man making his appointed rounds en route to his rendezvous with destiny.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 149 minutes

Life Of Pi

20th Century Fox

Rated PG for mature themes and scary action sequences.

Pastel Seascape Serves As Exquisite Backdrop For Spiritual Tale Of Survival

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) was raised Hindu before converting to Catholicism and Islam all on his own. The spiritually promiscuous, 16-year-old’s parents reacted differently to the changes in the boy’s unorthodox behavior, which included going to church and praying facing east five times a day.

His frustrated father (Adil Hussain) warned, “You cannot follow three religions at the same time,” while his more tolerant mother (Tabu) conceded that “science cannot teach what is in here,” touching her heart. Both shrug it off as probably just a passing phase, since they’re busy planning the big move of the family household and zoo from India to Canada.

Then, tragedy strikes en route when their cargo ship capsizes and sinks in the middle of the Pacific, leaving sole human survivor Pi in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Will the precocious believer remain true to his lofty ideals while having to play the faith-testing hand he’s suddenly been dealt?

That’s the pressing question posed in Life Of Pi, a visually-captivating tale of spirituality and survival. Directed by Oscar-winner Ang Lee (for Brokeback Mountain), the movie was shot against a series of exquisite seascapes that look like glorious, hand painted, pastel panoramas.

From the point of the shipwreck forward, the picture is basically a one-man show, à la Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000). But instead of talking to a volleyball, the protagonist here has to figure out how to coexist peacefully in very close quarters with a tiger who’d probably prefer to make him its next meal.

The burden of carrying the film falls on the shoulders of first-time actor Suraj Sharma, who does a magnificent job of conveying the existential angst of the beleaguered, ever-exasperated title character. But given the oceanic endurance theme, the picture still feels more like the Hitchcock classic, Lifeboat (1944), than Cast Away.

As for finding an audience, this remarkably richly-textured adaptation will undoubtedly be a hit with fans of the Yann Martel best-seller upon which it’s based, as well as with audience members of any age just looking for an entertaining movie. It might be more important to note that during an opening sequence of this flashback flick, the audience is essentially told that what is about to unfold is a story that will make you believe in God.

For all its religious pretensions, however, the thrust of the production revolves less around any overt attempt to convert disbelievers than around Ang Lee’s brilliant use of the screen as a cinematic canvas to narrate a compelling yarn for the ages. A critic and crowd pleaser impossible to forget come Academy Award season.

Crouching tiger, hidden Siegfried (sans Roy)!

 

Excellent (4 stars)

In English, French and Japanese with subtitles

Running time: 127 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening Thanksgiving, 2012

 

Red Dawn (PG-13 for profanity and intense war violence). Remake of the 1984 thriller about a ragtag team of teenage guerilla fighters who save the day after their town is invaded by North Korea. Ensemble features Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Isabel Lucas, Alyssa Diaz, Adrianne Palicki, Edwin Hodge, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Ron Yuan.

 

Rise Of The Guardians (PG for mature themes and scary action). Epic animated adventure where Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), Jack Frost (Chris Pine), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) join forces to protect the children of the world in the face of a boogeyman (Jude Law) determined to end their innocence and wreck their imagination. Voice cast includes Dakota Goyo, Khamani Griffin and the picture’s director, Peter Ramsey.

 

Silver Linings Playbook (R for profanity, sexuality and nudity). Romantic dramedy about a schoolteacher (Bradley Cooper) who moves in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) after a stint in a mental hospital with the hope of reconciling with his ex-wife (Brea Bee), only to find himself falling for an unstable widow (Jennifer Lawrence) when he goes off his meds. Supporting cast includes Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles and John Ortiz.

 

Central Park Five (Unrated). Rush to judgment documentary, co-directed by Ken Burns and his daughter, Sarah, revisiting the infamous Central Park jogger case where five black and Latino teenagers with no previous records were wrongfully convicted for the rape of a white jogger while the actual perpetrator, a serial sexual offender with an extensive rap sheet, remained at-large. With appearances by Reverend Calvin Butts and former NYC Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins.

 

Gottfried Helnwein And The Dreaming Child (Unrated). Mixed media documentary about an Israeli Opera production in Tel Aviv that was designed by the celebrated Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein.

 

Hitchcock (PG-13 for sexuality, violent images and mature themes). Faithful adaptation of Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho, a book revolving around Alfred (Anthony Hopkins)’s relationship with his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), and his fascination with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the murderer who served as inspiration for the character Norman Bates. With Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Toni Collette and original Karate Kid Ralph Macchio.

 

The King (Unrated). Inspirational biopic about Darko Kralj, a Bosnian war casualty who went on to become a paralympic world record holder. (In Croatian with subtitles)

 

Rust And Bone (R for violence, profanity, explicit sexuality and graphic nudity). Romance drama about a boxer with broken hands (Matthias Schoenaerts) who falls in love with a legless killer whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) after he moves from Belgium to Antibes to raise his 5-year-old son (Armand Verdure) in a safer environment. With Corinne Masiero, Celine Sallette and Bouli Lanners. (In French with subtitles)

 

Seeds Of Resiliency (Unrated). Overcoming the odds documentary about the lives of a dozen different people who have thrived in the wake of great tragedies, including a Ugandan civil war orphan, a quadriplegic professor from Korea, a Holocaust survivor and a wheelchair-bound boy who made it into the Guinness Book Of World Records.

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