10 posts categorized "Historic Drama"

October 17, 2012


LincolnSteven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is almost as much of a mess as the War Between the States. Its truncated script — by playwright Tony Kushner, based loosely on admitted plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” — sets out to cover Lincoln’s backroom manipulations to advance the Emancipation Proclamation through Congress as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Though the version I saw at a premiere at the New York Film Festival — with Steven Spielberg and high-profile cast members in attendance — was presented as “unfinished,” it seems unlikely that significant alterations will be made to the film. One could hope! Nothing less than a complete rewrite and re-filming could address the huge problems here.

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Glorified cameo appearances by a cast of tens dare the audience to guess at the personal and political motivations of even the most developed supporting characters. Tommy Lee Jones’s portrayal of Republican House Leader Thaddeus Stevens is a case in point. Most embarrassing is the film’s fake-looking lighting design — a reference to the bleach bypass process Spielberg used on "Minority Report" — that glares from behind the window of every sound-stage set representing interior locations, such as those in the White House. Sure, the Civil War was bad, but surely the sun still existed. Of course, as anyone even vaguely familiar with Daniel Day Lewis’s acting prowess could guess, the film finds firm footing in Day Lewis’s mesmerizing portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. If Daniel Day Lewis isn’t our greatest living film actor, I don’t know who is.

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From the opening scene, in which a couple of Yankee soldiers recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address back to its author, Daniel Day Lewis inhabits every molecule of the president who infamously suspended habeas corpus and trashed the Constitution in order to wage an illegal war of economic conquest against the Confederacy.

Freeing the slaves? That wasn't Lincoln's objective. Anyone who has bothered to look beyond the elementary school propaganda version of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency knows that Lincoln never attempted to disguise his racist views toward “Negroes.”

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“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

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The quote comes from Lincoln’s fourth debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858. But you'd never know from Spielberg's sanitized “Lincoln” that America’s 16th president espoused such public disdain for the “black race.” What the film does is illuminate the illicit lengths to which Lincoln went in order to ram the Emancipation Proclamation through a rump Congress — a strategy to break the South economically. No amount of intimidation or bribery was beneath Lincoln’s Republican cabinet of “rivals.”

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“Lincoln” obviously fails as a history lesson. The movie also fails as a brief political epic. However, it does make its mark as a piece of political historical propaganda. Less character study than a showcase for Daniel Day Lewis to inhabit an iconic character, “Lincoln” is nevertheless entertaining. Some ground could have been made up, had the filmmakers not stuck on an obligatory sequence about Lincoln’s assassination, since "Lincoln” is not a biopic but a look at one historical moment. Incorporating the superfluous nod to Lincoln’s untimely demise comes across as so much narrative fat.

See the film for Daniel Day Lewis. As for the “history lesson” on display, take it with a grain of salt. 

Rated PG-13. 132 mins.

2 Stars

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February 07, 2012


In_darknessAgnieszka Holland’s unforgettable adaptation of Robert Marshall’s non-fiction book “In the Sewers of Lvov” tells the story of a group of Polish Jews who hid for months underground from the Nazis. That a duo of Polish sewer inspectors, who aid the desperate Jewish refugees, act foremost as extortionists adds of the many thematic shades of grey Holland explores.

Agnieszka Holland - Biography | Artist | Culture.pl

For all of the filmmaker’s apt efforts at bringing realism to the film’s labyrinthine sewer environment, the film struggles to establish a clear protagonist. Sewer inspector Poldek Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) gradually learns to sacrifice in order to help the de facto prisoners, rather than profit from their dilemma. Still, the character is no position to convey the story’s complex themes of survival under dire conditions. The Jewish group’s leader Mundek (Benno Furmann) shoulders his burden of responsibilities with emotionally poker-faced resolve that pays off during a suspenseful encounter with a Nazi soldier. Still, Benno Furmann comes across as too pristine an actor for the role. 

Agnieszka Holland: the veteran director takes on modern Poland in her  award-winning new film — The Calvert Journal

Holland utilizes sexual encounters between the demoralized Jewish victims to express a persistent thread of humanity that endures regardless of external dangers. The encounters serve as flashes of light in a story with very little of it.

Oscar-Nominee 'In Darkness' is a Grimy Alternative to 'Schindler's List' |  IndieWire

Rated R. 165 mins.

3 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

August 15, 2011


Colesmithey.comKen Loach's spiritual American cousin John Sayles performs an act of cinematic due diligence in illustrating how little has changed since 1900 in the Western world's imperialist tactics toward smaller countries.

Building the film on his historically-based novel "A Moment in the Sun," Sayles digs into the realities of the turn-of-the-century Philippine-American war set on the politically significant island of Luzon.

Amigo: John Sayles's Best Film - Film/TV - The Stranger

The peaceful existence of a rural village community (a.k.a "baryo") is upended in the blink of an eye when American soldiers overtake the agricultural area to create a garrison. The village's Catholic friar Padre Hidalgo (Yul Vazquez) is the first to side with the occupiers. The hypocritical priest identifies the benevolent Rafael (Joel Torre) as the "head" of the village. Rafael in turn introduces himself to the arrogant militia as "Amigo" — a term they liberally interchange with epithets such as goo-goo or monkey. Rafael's brother and son escape into the jungle to join a group of Filipino guerrilla fighters strategizing about how best to liberate their country.

Amigo movie[1] : Catholic Lane

Sayles emphasizes the dilemma of ordinary people caught in an untenable situation. Except for Chris Cooper's contribution as an American general, there are no name actors to distract from the naturalistic realism of the narrative. Joel Torre personalizes Rafael as a unique everyman through whose eyes the audience witnesses the turmoil.

Film: Amigo (2010)

As with John Sayles's unforgettable film "Matewan," about West Virginia coal miners, "Amigo" is a cold glass of socio-political allegory exempt from pretension or exaggeration. It is also the most relevant war picture to come out of the post-9/11 era. Do yourself a favor, ignore Hollywood for a couple of hours and experience John Sayles's best film in recent years.

Amigo movie review & film summary (2011) | Roger Ebert

Not Rated. 124 mins.

4 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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