Monday, December 3, 2012

Lincoln role a master stroke

I thought Joaquin Phoenix was great in The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012). Well, he's blown away (sorry Joaquin, maybe you can grow a beard again) by Daniel Day-Lewis's performance as America's 16th president in Lincoln (Steven Spielberg), you know, the man who freed the slaves. Day-Lewis nails what we think of as Lincoln's low key whimsical but brilliant personality and you hardly know it's the actor on the screen. While I thought Lincoln was an excellent movie I was surprised by its plot. It's built around the last few months of Lincoln's presidency (before he was assassinated ironically soon after being inaugurated for a second term). It focusses on Lincoln's efforts to have Congress pass the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery. The movie is almost a minute-by-minute account of how Lincoln employed his deputies to twist arms and bribe if necessary recalcitrant Congressmen (mainly Democrats) to get them on board. As such the movie delves into policy minutiae. This comes on top of a highly realistic script where the characters speak in mid-19th Century vernacular. The combination can make for some dry movie watching, especially for those expecting the standard dramatic biopic. I love politics but even I found it hard to understand some of the nuances and to-and-fro that was taking place. Nevertheless, Day-Lewis saves the film and there are some spectacular scenes of Congress actually debating the amendment, with highly realistic performances.
I also stepped in to see Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell) with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Nero, in limited release. This has been getting widespread critical acclaim with Rotten Tomatoes rating it 90 per cent. It also won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto film festival. Hard to understand why. The lead character, Pat Solitano (Cooper) is a manic depressive just released from incarceration after beating to a pulp a man with whom his wife was having an affair. It's not that Cooper does such a bad acting job. It's that the character is so hard to watch because of his extreme and distasteful behavior. Guess I can't blame a film for capturing reality, right? Otherwise the movie was full of clichés. It takes place in Philly and there's a football theme (“Playbook,” get it?) where Solitano's dad (De Niro) is a rabid Eagles fan. How many other movies have we seen play to a home town type? Philly could be Boston could be Cleveland could be Pittsburgh. And the romantic interest (Lawrence as Tiffany Maxwell) is also an extreme personality, generating clash after clash after clash that you almost see sparks flying off the screen. Inevitably the two fall in love, of course. But when it came to the point where she asks him to join her in a dance competition - ugh - I had visions of Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977) or They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Sydney Pollack, 1969), and headed for the exit.
In my last posting I got it wrong saying MJR doesn’t have a warning about not speaking during movies. It does but it isn't as emphasized as the cell phone or seat kicking advisories. I also see AMC Theatres has a similar warning. I haven't been to a Cineplex theatre in Canada in quite some time and never remember similar advisories, which would likely do wonders to cut back on annoyances like pushing seats and yakking.

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