Portraying historical figures on film is a daunting challenge. Such is particularly the case for beloved American icons with well-established identities.
The filmmaker’s challenge rests not so much in recreating history. Typically, plenty of credible narratives exist which provide multiple accounts of the icon’s role in history.
What’s toughest is striking the right balance between realism and art, melding history with entertainment, and doing what would seem impossible — satisfying academics, film critics, and the fickle ticket-buying, movie-going public.
This is where Lincoln, the new film by director Stephen Spielberg ultimately soars on at least one account, but fails in others.
Based in part on a book by noted presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, the film concentrates on the final five months of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Surprisingly, this is not a war movie as much as an intriguing political drama. The film’s primary focus is the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s the amendment which essentially outlaws slavery in America (Note: To be precise, the famed Emancipation Proclamation was a war directive. It took an actual amendment to the Constitution to obfuscate state laws on slavery).
The gauntlet is laid down in the U.S. House of Representatives, where a two-thirds voting majority is needed to change America forever. Remarkably, the movement to pass the 13th Amendment is exactly 20 votes short. Virtually all of Lincoln’s advisers, most notably Secretary of State William Seward (played to perfection by the consistently-excellent David Strathairn), pleads with the 16th President to abandon the fight and focus instead on ending the Civil War as quickly as possible.
Life of Pi is a difficult movie to review.
Certain to be one of the year’s most widely-discussed films, in part because it’s open to multiple interpretations, this is a bold cinematic achievement by a master craftsman — namely Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain).
Yet, it’s also fundamentally flawed, its most puzzling script gaps camouflaged by extraordinary special effects and first-rate performances by three actors who portray the lead character at different stages of his life. Indeed, the varied imagery and wide range of emotional demands upon the actors are so compelling that one might actually overlook the glaring contradiction within the film’s most intriguing question — which deals with the storyteller’s relationship with God. The film is such a powerful visual spectacle that the audience deserves an equally consistent storyline — and ultimately just as satisfying a payoff — which compliments the arduous endurance test of sitting through feels like an overly-long 2 hour and 20 minute epic journey across the world’s biggest ocean.
Imagine real-life hero pilot “Sulley” Sullenberger with a severe drug and alcohol problem and doing a few lines prior to taking controls in the cockpit, yet still managing to land his packed airplane with absolute precision on the Hudson River. Would he still be a hero? That’s the dilemma of the new film, “Flight,” which just hit theaters this week.
This is a difficult movie to sit through. Yet it’s tough to decide which is more gut-wrenching — watching a doomed airliner packed full of passengers buckled down in a nosedive headed for near-certain death, or the central character played by Denzel Washington, whose personal life is just as out of control.
While Washington’s character nicknamed “Whip” manages to miraculously maneuver the aircraft towards a crash landing that undoubtedly saves lives, the captain comes under increasing scrutiny once the post-crash investigation begins. Conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the investigation begins to reveal some troubling revelations about Whip and his conduct. Every second of the pilot and crew’s lives are scrutinized, which uncovers some ugly secrets about how Whip spends most of his free time. His best friends are bottles with names like Jim Beam and Jack Daniels, with a few lines of cocaine to add a little spice.
The hero-addict dichotomy is a marvelous dramatic device which helps to sustain a longer-than-average 2.5 hour movie. The audience faces a real conflict here. We don’t know whether to cheer for Whip to beat the rap and move on with his life (after all, he heroically saved lives), or be exposed as the fraud he is so the healing and recovery process can begin.
To those of us who remember going to bed each night serenaded by Ted Koppel’s voice on ABC’s “Nightline,” the latest film by Ben Affleck will bring back vivid memories.
Yet remarkably, even though we remember how the Iranian Hostage Crisis turned out, the personal stories and occasional acts of heroism behind the daily headlines remain mostly untold and little known.
“Argo” tells the griping story of a secret CIA-led mission to rescue six American hostages who managed to escape the doomed American Embassy on the day it was swarmed by an Iranian mob, which eventually led to a 444-day stalemate for those left behind who remained trapped in captivity. The six consular workers who managed to slip out a side door, just as the Embassy compound was being stormed, hid away for more than two months. They were housed at great risk inside the Canadian Ambassador’s residence, in Tehran.
Unfortunately for the hostages, the time clock is ticking. The Canadian Ambassador receives word that his mission is to close, leaving the hidden Americans in a proverbial lifeboat, now suddenly taking on water.
This sets into motion one of the oddest alliances ever for a clandestine operation, bringing together intelligence officials working alongside Hollywood insiders who must concoct a phony film as a cover story. The wacky idea is to pretend to make a movie in Iran, and smuggle out the American diplomats.
“Dirty Harry” has finally run out of bullets.
He went 13 minutes instead of only five, he got unlucky, and ended up looking like a punk on national television.
If Clint Eastwood’s act last night would have instead been an audition, his movie career might have been over in an instant.
Yes, it was that bad.
Eastwood’s appearance at the critical moment of the final night of the 2012 Republican National Convention was quite possibly the most painful moment in any political theater within the past twenty years. Reminiscent of Admiral John Stockdale’s cringe-inducing verbal drool in the 1992 Vice Presidential debate, the iconic 82-year-old actor took last night’s stage at the very twinkling of what was supposed to be national coronation. Instead, his stammering speech ended up as such a distraction, he made a totally incoherent Stockdale seem like William F. Buckley, by comparison.
No one could have possibly seen it coming. In fact, the buildup was right on schedule.
For the better part of two hours, the Republican Party establishment had to be creaming all over themselves. Their presidential nominee had largely been humanized for the very first time (no small feat) to tens of millions of viewers and voters — many tuning into the political season for the first time. This was largely achieved by roasting up the all-too-familiar emotional chestnuts manipulatively designed to somehow transform a cold-hearted venture capitalist who made hundeds of millions busting up companies and outsourcing jobs into a warm and fuzzy stuffed teddy bear – you know, an electable human being. Sort of like a political Frankenstein.
Misson largely accomplished, next one of Hollywood’s most revered film legends — particularly to right-wing gun nuts — took the grand stage and then went completey fucking bonkers batshit crazy. Watching the ad lib act and witnessing the carnage of a cherished actor and director who has given society so many memorable roles and memories, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.