Discussion in 'Entertaining Diversions' started by Lizard_King, Aug 7, 2012.
I am excite.
Goddamnit my thread is named better
LK has a bigger picture and no Tom Chick references. I say we pick this one.
Amazing transformation by DDL.
Where are the vampires?
So here's the actual EW article.
The cast beyond DDL sounds fine. The scriptwriter is an excellent choice, by all accounts, as he has apparently done well with other difficult historical material.
Where it starts to get interesting for me is that it's based on a Doris Kearns Goodwin book that was optioned before it was written, which as an aside suggests to me a potentially problematic feedback loop between Hollywood and historian. Nevertheless, the book itself was very well received, and it seems to fit in with the current generation of innovative Lincoln histories by focusing on his cabinet as a whole (including personal lives) rather than the traditional cradle to grave narrative. I added some scholarly reviews of her work that I think do a good job of describing it to the BF Zotero under US Presidents/Lincoln. Also, because it might come up if you look her up, I threw in reviews of Hoffer's Crimes Of History which covers the recent historian controversies around plagiarism and bullshit and includes a useful, nuanced analysis of how wrong DKG actually was by the standards in the field versus the relatively unbalanced (imo) ranting that surrounds these things in the media.
Which brings us to the director. I am always of two minds on Spielberg, and I hope he does a good job with this. But I don't trust him enough to assume he'll avoid being naive and hagiographical with with the material, since it combines both America Fuck Yeah and Lincoln Fuck Yeah potential. I guess I should just be grateful he's not going with black and white for bonus gravitas, and hope that that the solid foundation is sufficient to make up for his trademark moves.
Team of Rivals was a pretty good book, at least in my opinion, so I'm looking forward to it.
I'm glad to read that the movie will focus on the final four months of Lincoln's life. Covering all of the cabinet shenanigans over the course of the entire war made for a great book, but I don't see how it could translate to a good movie.
Yes, I think that's an important point in its favor.
So apart from a cool quote about 500 days of summer, this playboy interview with Gordon-Levitt had a good bit:
I actually disagree, from what I recall the final few months of Linoln's life were rather boring. Grant was laying siege to Petersburg, Lincoln was fighting with Congress over Reconstruction, and uhh that's it. His triumphant trip to Richmond was pretty awesome and will make for some good sentimental scenes of liberated slaves greeting him, but uhh that's about it til he gets shot. :(
From what you recall from where? I'm pretty sure there's no part of his political career that wouldn't make for riveting film depending on how you set up the stakes; obviously other parts of his life that tie more directly to the Lincoln myth seem easier. It's easy to internalize the "greatest hits" approach that history textbooks adopt and miss the great potential that the context for the hits has in terms of providing not only a deeper understanding of historical figures but great storytelling. It's why I'm a big fan of purposefully uneven historical films vs straightforward biopics and the like.
From what I recall of my readings on the Civil War in general and Lincoln in specific.
I'll take a wait and see approach of course, I love DDL and anything Lincoln-related. But I think the odds of Spielberg giving us a film that provides a "deeper understanding" of Lincoln in his final months is, uhh, low.
Well, simply the fact that few know much about it is my support for the idea that Spielberg can add something. I don't even particularly like Spielberg, but I do believe him competent and enthusiastic about Kearns Goodwin's source material, which is the reason for my optimism. Plus since it's somewhat removed from the real life topics he's engaged in the past with mixed results, I'm ok with giving him a clean slate.
My comment wasn't meant to imply that the final few months of his life were the most exciting part of it... my point was more that any story that tries to cover an entire life in two or three hours inevitably ends up, as Lizard_king put it, taking the "greatest hits" approach to history:
Here's young Abraham chopping wood for a log cabin. Now he's a clean-shaven lawyer arguing a noble case for someone the audience can sympathize with! Here he is opposing the Mexican-American War! Now he's debating Douglas! Now he's President! Oh no, the rebs have fired on Fort Sumter! Now Abe is writing a letter to General McClellan. Here he is giving the Gettysburg Address. Now he appoints Grant as his top commander, and makes a joke about his drinking. Now he's been shot! Cue Morgan Freeman giving a voiceover elegy. Roll credits.
I don't want to see that movie, no matter who directs it.
DDL is so good that even if the movie he's in is a piece of shit (see, for example, Gangs of New York) I can watch with unalloyed pleasure. So, IMO this is good news, regardless of director, script, subject matter, &c &c.
So there's a trailer, and it is...Spielbergy in bad ways. Let's hope the trailer music is nothing like the movie, which should have no music. NONE. But as LL said, it's all about that one performance, and it looks like a doozy. They even went with the real voice rather than the stage voice he is attributed in our imaginations.
I like the voice. Lincoln was described as having a high tenor, and that seems to be what he's going with.
Yeah that won me over goddammit. I was afraid they'd give Lincoln the deep, heroic voice. Goddammit, I was totally ready to get my hate on!
So, uhh, my previous skepticism was pretty much unwarranted. The film was spectacular, the performances awesome. The Oscar folks might as well start engraving the statues, and recall that Day-Lewis is hypthenated, Day is not a middle name. Lee is, I think, so they won't need a hyphen on the supporting actor statue.
The movie starts off a bit slowly, the first half hour or so. But it picks up steam and for a film that's basically a dramatization of Congress doing its thing, it's surprisingly fast moving. I looked at my watch at one point and was shocked to realize the film was almost done. It's long but it doesn't feel like two and a half hours long.
The only flaw I think the film has is that it's trying to pack a LOT of material in there. Some important characters are barely introduced (e,g,, Lincoln's two personal assistants; he shares a pretty important scene with them halfway through the movie and if you aren't a Lincoln nerd you're going to be like who the fuck are these two guys?). The movie also tries to develop the Lincoln family and it does, but it's in a slightly haphazard and awkward way (some exposition on Mary Todd's part is noteworthy here)
Im picking at nits though and I'm going to stop. The film was absolutely wonderful and you should go see it.
Did you find the score intrusive? The trailers were really over the top but I assume it sounds better in context.
I don't even really remember the score, so I'd say that's a no. Certainly it wasn't as nearly over the top as it was in the trailers.
My roommate was like "I want to see Lincoln" and at the time I didn't realize there was a non-vampire Lincoln movie on offer. So I was confused when she said it was supposed to be historically accurate and such. "I didn't realize historical Lincoln hunted vampires!"
It was really good.
I liked the music but then I'm a sucker for John Williams anyway.
I found DDL's Lincoln voice oddly reminiscent of a woman I know, who was born male and has a sort of raspy falsetto and a vaguely similar pattern of speech. That was a bit distracting.
He also single-handedly fought off an alien invasion prior to the Civil War. His laser pistol is on display at the Smithsonian.
I enjoyed this a lot. They really knew how to grow beards back in those days.
Wikipedia's plot summary for the film currently reads:
My family and I went and saw Lincoln the day after Christmas. Been working to assemble my thoughts on the film, but to sum up before I get into it, none of us really liked it.
There were some great performances, of course. Daniel Day-Lewis put on a clinic as always, but for me the high points were any scene in which Tommy Lee Jones spoke. I enjoyed David Costabile's performance as James Ashley as well; his uncontrolled, joyful reaction to the 13th Amendment passing was actually really moving.
On the other hand, Sally Field's Mary Todd was a nasty and petty character, but I got the distinct impression she wasn't supposed to come off that way. Spielberg bludgeoning you over the head with her mental illness by having her scream about going back to the "loony bin" near the end of the movie seemed a stop-gap measure to evoke pity for her instead of annoyance, but it only kind of worked because I still didn't like her. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was absolutely wasted in an uninteresting role, and every time he was on screen his scenes played out the same way again and again. ("I want to join up," "No you can't," "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ME!") Lincoln's youngest son was a more interesting character than JGLs.
Then there's the overall pace of the film, which is not fast. My dad came out of it saying, "That was really slow," which is his nice way of saying he was bored silly. While he admittedly has terrible taste in movies in general, his Netflix queue is full of all these unbelievably dry BBC made-for-TV dramas from the 80s that none of us can stay awake to while watching them. So when he's bored by a movie, you're in trouble. That's more of a taste thing, though. Obviously mileages vary.
My biggest issue though was the shape of the narrative arc of the film. Or rather lack of it. Certainly the climax of the film is easy to place, but on either side of the 13th Amendment vote there is no rising action, no falling action, and just a long, flat, plain. It could be Spielberg's way of saying, "This wasn't a story, this was history, and history doesn't follow narrative structure!" If that's his point though, it's dumb, because certainly the film's not otherwise perfectly historically accurate. Since it's not a documentary, some concessions to narrative structure would have been acceptable. I may be building a straw man to tear down here, but it's the best reason I can think of for why the film would take this approach.
By the same token, Lincoln himself doesn't have much of a character arc, and while maybe true to life, his portrayal as this Confucius-like figure bugged the hell out of me. In a number of scenes he's this stooped, wizened presence that no one is paying any attention to while an argument is raging. Then he speaks up and instantly silences the room, as a president would do, and then has story time. His wise parable saves the day! In a film lacking much in the way of typical story structure, this particular device being used multiple times, getting more glaring each time, baffled me.
So yeah, I was underwhelmed. I wish Tommy Lee Jones had been in it more, and I would actually like to see a movie focusing on the radical abolitionists, since man for man I found them the most interesting characters. Failing that, a spinoff series with James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson.
I would think that would be really hard to do properly. Our modern sensibilities automatically find the "radical" abolitionists to be the only sane voice in the entire slavery debate, and yet they were the crazy radicals of their day. If the movie tries to make the point that impassioned dedication to a truly moral cause is admirable rather than crazy, then both the anti-abortion wackos and staunch pro-gay marriage supporters would think that the movie supports their views.
Actually, that *would* be interesting. Now I want to see that movie.
This movie could focus on folks like John Brown and Silas Soule, Jayhawkers in Kansas, the former whom was probably a bit crazy. Wikipedia says "He believed he was the instrument of God's wrath in punishing men for the sin of owning slaves." He brought this to fruition in Kansas and later, more famously, at Harper's Ferry which ended up being a major catalyst for the civil war. Aside from Nat Turner, I don't think there was a more radical response to slavery during its time.
Here's a painting of John Brown that I love.
slight digression: Mr W was raised in a liberal college town, while I was raised in a conservative Orange County CA town. At some point we were mutually surprised to find that we had dramatically different views of the crazy terrorist noble if slightly unhinged hero John Brown.
posted that just before seeing Eduardo X's post! I love that painting too.
This actually reminded me of something else that jumped out at me while watching the movie. In the first scene with all the abolitionists standing in Thaddeus Stevens' office, at first Stevens isn't shown behind the desk. Every abolitionist in turn gets something to say, and then they all look at the man sitting at the desk to get his opinion. Only then does the camera show who's sitting there. It's built up in that scene to be a big reveal, but for what? It's not a reveal because it's Thaddeus Stevens sitting there; no one's going to recognize him on sight because unlike, say, Ulysses S. Grant, his physical appearance isn't enough to tell us who he is. It's a reveal because it's Tommy Lee Jones. It's the movie saying, "HEY GUYS LOOK OVER HERE IT'S TOMMY LEE JONES! AMAZING, RIGHT?"
It's a little thing and a nitpick, but it was out of character for a period piece like this to directly acknowledge the fame of its actors, and it struck me at the time as Spielberg being ham-handed.
I liked the three scoundrels best. I would love a TV series of James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson running around buying elections and votes in the 19th century.
I loved this movie. I mean you're sitting there and you know the 13th amendment passes but you're on the edge of your seat anyway because what if it doesn't?! What if they don't get the votes!? That's pretty impressive. I didn't dislike Mary, but I did get the distinct impression you weren't supposed to like her very much and you were supposed to realize she was a difficult woman. I mean, they even have her say that at the end, that history would only remember her as the crazy woman that made Lincoln miserable. That it was slow didn't bother me--slow doesn't equate to boring in my mind and I found every scene pretty fascinating. It all had an epic sort of quality about it, but there were still inserts of humor which were great. And I think everyone in Hollywood showed up for a cameo in this, whether or not they got a line to say, so being like "Actor A was totally wasted!" is silly in my opinion. So-and-so got a small role and that's all the role called for. I don't need big named actors to have lots to do if the part that they are playing serves its purpose--in the case of Lincoln's son(s) to show that he was not without trouble at home and knowing exactly what the war cost the common family and how hard a price that was to pay.
I'd go see it again, but considering we saw it at a 3:30 showing on a Thursday afternoon after Christmas and had to sit in the front row, I think it's probably making enough money without me doing so. But I did like it enough that I seriously considered it!
This reminds me of an episode in my freshman US history class in high school. We were studying the civil war, and this one girl who was renowned for her stupidity raised her hand near the end of the class and asked "So who won the Civil War, anyways?"
It's clear who lost the Civil War, but much less clear who really won. You just don't get the many dimensions wrapped in that question.
We watched this last night. It was really great for the most part, owing mainly to the mostly excellent performances and the really good script. Spielberg managed to get out of his own way more than he has in a long time, though not entirely. Could have done without basically all of the family stuff which felt like dopey old Spielberg to me (and which also had subpar performances that stuck out like sore thumbs in a movie notable for the staggering number of excellent ones; I like JGL but he was not well-matched in scenes with Daniel Day-Lewis, and I thought Sally Field was basically awful even allowing for the fact that her part was also the worst-written), and also it should have ended with Stevens having the amendment read to him in bed. Including the assassination was dumb, obvious, and undercut the thing that made the movie not terrible, which was the decision to make it a legislative procedural about the passage of the 13th amendment rather than a Lincoln biopic. Altogether very good, but overlong by about forty minutes or so.
Also: the score is horrible and horribly used and needs to be taken out back and shot. Oh hey, is this an important moment you guys? I couldn't tell could I maybe get some incredibly loud swelling strings to let me know how to feel about this please? Ugh. From now on Spielberg shouldn't be allowed to decide how music gets used in his movies and John Williams shouldn't be allowed to work period.
I'd love to see a really good character piece about John Brown. It's great subject matter: a person who seems pretty crazy, but then again he also seems like he might be the only sane person in the world, doing things that are terrible, but then again are they really, and even if they are are they justified, and so on. I'd like to see Paul Thomas Anderson take this on.
I haven't seen this yet but I have heard almost that exact critique from many people - professional critics even. I.e., Spielberg manages to tone down most of his signature techniques and the film is better for it, but a lot of that good work is undone by the really. Obvious. Soundtrack.
I loved so much about this movie that I am willing to overlook and forgive the Spielberg schmaltz and soundtrack. The cast! The dialogue! The suspense and excitement, as Quakers notes, around stuff we know is going to go down. The costume design! Seward's glorious golden robes was the most amazing outfit I have ever seen, and I was dying to know more about it.
I basically just wanted to hang out with Lincoln while he tells incredibly wise, hilarious, bawdy tall tales and parables all day and night long.
I wish I could recut the movie, though, and nix most of the soundtrack and have it end with the scene of Lincoln walking down a hallway in the White House. In my mind, that's where it ended.
The first 10 minutes of this movie hooked me. So many moments in the film filled me with heartache:
I think this movie will stick with me for a while.
(added spoiler tag as I just noticed dermot said he hadn't seen it yet.)
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