The final months of the Civil War a time when President Abraham Lincoln struggled to end slavery and bring the Confederate States of America back into the fold of the Union are among the most important moments in Unites States history. They're also the murkiest. Eleventh grade American History tried to teach us — war four scores Emancipation Proclamation the 13th Amendment and a fateful night at the theater — but with a few hundred years' worth of events to process most people leave school knowing that Lincoln made a couple of important moves that turned the world what it is today.
Thankfully we now have a film courtesy of the legendary Steven Spielberg that brings the 16th President's amazing uphill battle to cinematic life. The cold hard facts could not be more impressive.
For Lincoln an adaptation of the Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Spielberg scales down his usual blockbuster sensibilities (last seen in 2011's World War I melodrama War Horse) to craft an intimate portrait of an iconic political figure. To pull it off writer Tony Kushner (Munich and the two-part Angels in America) constructs the film like a play relying on the soothing chameleon presence of Daniel Day-Lewis to breath life into Lincoln's poetic waxing. The president hits roadblock after roadblock on his quest to free the slaves and end the war Kushner and Spielberg weaving in handfuls of characters to pull him in various directions (and accurately represent the real life events). Each time Day-Lewis' Lincoln gracefully dances the dance solving every problem with action and words. Today Lincoln is held in high regard as an inspirational figure. Spielberg shows us why.
Lincoln isn't a full-blown birth-to-death biopic of the Great Emancipator and is all the better for it. Picking up in January of 1865 years into the Civil War Lincoln summons his Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) to say enough is enough — the time is ripe for the abolishing of slavery. Against the vocal naysayers of the Union and even his personal confidants Lincoln attempts to rally the congressmen he needs to make his bill an amendment. He hires three men (John Hawkes Tim Blake Nelson and the wonderfully outrageous James Spader) to use whatever nonviolent means possible to swing the vote. All the while well-spoken adversaries (like Lee Pace's Fernando Wood) take to the House of Representatives floor to discredit Lincoln and dissuade congressmen. Keeping the progressive foot in the door is Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) a foul-mouthed powerhouse who shares Lincoln's ambitious dreams of equality.
The story is simple but Kushner doesn't shy away from laying down lengthy passages of political discussion in order to show the importance of Lincoln's task. It's dense material spruced up with Kushner's ear for dialogue. But even so it occasionally meanders into Ken Burns documentary territory. Case in point: there are so many characters with beards in Lincoln Spielberg even flashes title cards underneath their opening scenes just so we're not lost. The fact-heavy approach takes getting used to but Spielberg and Kushner adeptly dig deep beyond the political gabfest to find a human side to Lincoln. He's a gentle man a warm man and a hilarious man. The duo's Honest Abe never shies away from a good story — at times he's like Grandpa from The Simpsons lost in his own anecdotes (much to the dismay of his cabinet). Day-Lewis chews scenery as hinted at in the trailers but with absolute restraint. That makes his sudden outbursts really pop. When Lincoln becomes fed up with pussyfooting politicians like the quivering representatives played by Walton Goggins and Michael Stuhlbarg Day-Lewis cranks the high-pitched president up to 10. He never falters.
There's a great deal of humor and heart in Lincoln — partially because the circus-like antics of Washington D.C. feel all too close-to-home in this day and age — and Spielberg paces it all with expert camera work. The drama is iffier: a side story involving Lincoln's son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) teases an interesting family dynamic that is never fully explored and is clunky when dropped to the wayside in favor of larger issues. Same goes for Lincoln's wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) who continues to grieve for the couple's lost child. They are important issues but they don't quite work in the fabric of this specific narrative.
The larger world outside the offices of the White House and Congress is often forgotten too — we hear a lot of war talk without seeing a whole lot of war. Instances where Lincoln ventures out into fields of the dead have emotional impact but we feel disconnected from it. Where Spielberg really gets it right is in the chaos of the presidential occupation. There is no easy task for Lincoln. "I may have been wrong about that " says Abe referencing his issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation "but I wanted the people to tell me if I was." Day-Lewis understands Lincoln's complex internal thought and brings it forward in each scene: humble confident deadly and compassionate.
Spielberg's technical team once again wows and echoes the lead performance. Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski's contrasting photography near chiaroscuro makes the beautiful set and production design hyper real and highlights the actors' aging faces. Composer John Williams returns once again but with a score as low-key as Day-Lewis' character — a change of pace when compared to War Horse. It's all up to par with Spielberg's past work without turning Lincoln into a flashy period drama.
Day-Lewis was the talk of the town when the first Lincoln trailers made their way on the web. Surprisingly however Lincoln wows because it's a well-balanced ensemble drama. Lee Jones delivers his best work in a decade as the grouchy idealist Spader delivers the comedic performance of the fall season and every scene introduces another familiar face to add additional gravitas to the picture (as opposed to being a distracting cameo fest). S. Epatha Merkerson's late-in-the-game scene opens up the tear ducts in a way that none of her male costars can.
If history isn't one of your interests Lincoln may not rouse you — background reading not required but conversation moves at lightning speed and without much hand-holding. It's a change of pace for Spielberg and a welcome one. With all the bells and whistles that come with being the biggest director of all time Lincoln looks amazing sounds amazing and has enough talent to make it an exhilarating learning experience.
Jesse and Chester (Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) wake up with no memory of their wild antics the night before: "Boy we were so wasted!" Walking out their front door they discover an empty space: "Dude where's my car?" So begins the odyssey that is piecing together the strange events of the night before and finding their vehicle so that they can a) retrieve the anniversary gifts they bought for their twin girlfriends b) make peace for destroying their house and quite possibly c) save the universe.
Clueless energetic and amiable Kutcher ("That '70s Show") and Scott ("American Pie " "Road Trip") are charismatic and fun as the dopey duo. They have some good onscreen chemistry work hard to keep their spirits high and are clearly having fun. Kutcher has a definite future on the big screen and if his choices remain consistent Scott might go down in film history as the only actor to have a stoned dog in almost every one of his movies. Also to liven things up there are some amusing cameos by Brent Spiner Andy Dick Kristy Swanson and a flock of ostriches.
Clearly students of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High " "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure " "The Big Lebowski " "Galaxy Quest " "Revenge of the Nerds " "Monty Python and the Holy Grail " "The Pink Panther " "Jurassic Park " "Men in Black " and "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman " screenwriter Philip Stark and director Danny Leiner manage to throw in one or two original ideas amid the good-natured fun and chaos. Honorable mention goes to Leiner for never actually showing our two heroes lighting up or dropping anything psychedelic during the course of the film.
To some, it is the most significant auction in the world of cartoon art, bar none.
To others, it's just an unfortunate day in the life of a museum.
On Saturday, Guernsey's auction house will conduct an extensive auction of cartoon art, with most of the 700 works up for sale coming from the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Fla. The museum, founded by Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker, is home to more than 200,000 drawings.
The museum is selling one of it's most prized possessions - what may be the original drawings of Mickey Mouse - among its almost 600 items for sale. The museum is attempting to wipe out the almost $2 million it owes on its mortgage, as well as create an endowment for future operating expenses. Typical of the plight of many nonprofits, the museum has experienced funding problems that necessitate the sale.
The 36-panel storyboard is from 1928's Plane Crazy, and is believed to be the first drawing ever made of Walt Disney's seminal creation, Mickey Mouse. Inspired by Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight, Mickey Mouse was supposed to have debuted in this silent film, but Plane Crazy ended up being released after Steamboat Willie.
"The piece was originally donated for fund-raising purposes, and that's why it was placed as collateral against the mortgage," said museum operations director Jeanne Greever. "Certainly having to auction it off is sad, but as it's not officially part of the permanent collection, it's won't hurt the integrity of the collection on display."
The Plane Crazy storyboard, called the Holy Grail of the cartoon art world, is worth an estimated $3.2 million to $3.7 million, and will likely receive an opening bid in the mid-six figure range.
"This storyboard is as valuable in the cartoon world as any painting you might name in the traditional art world," said Herbert Barker, founder and curator of Barker Character, Comic, and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire, Conn. "There is no more important work in that regard."
Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's, agrees.
"[There is] no more significant work in the cartoon world," he said. "This is the seminal piece of the most recognizable character of the 20th century. Everyone, whether you live in North America or North Africa, has been touched by Mickey Mouse."
David Horsey, the president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists and a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, also echoes that sentiment.
"This is huge," Horsey said. "That storyboard was the beginning of a revolution ... The Disney empire was built from that piece."
Greever hopes that the storyboard will remain at the museum.
"We know it's a long shot, but it is our fervent hope that someone would purchase the storyboard and then keep it on display at our museum.," she said.
SunTrust bank, which holds the note on the museum, originally demanded the storyboard last year as payment from the museum. But in December, the museum got a time extension from the bank. A lack of substantial public endowments in the intervening months has led the museum to take works to auction.
SunTrust officials refused to comment.
It is not rare for a museum to auction off a major piece, Ettinger said.
"This is hardly the first time," Ettinger said. "We've worked with many museums in selling off... pieces. Hopefully this auction can set the museum on the proper fiscal path. People need to realize this is just a minute part of their collection."
Among other works of note from the museum at auction include:
Animation cells from Disney's 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, including one of Doc and Dopey worth an estimated $24,000;
A Frank Sinatra portrait by Al Hirschfeld, valued at $20,000 to $25,000;
More than 30 original Dick Tracy drawings by cartoonist Chester Gould, each worth $300 to $1,000; and
Multiple originals of the Prince Valiant Sunday cartoon by Hal Foster, each worth $2,000 to $5,000.
The museum's total lot, minus the Mickey Mouse storyboard, is expected to fetch anywhere between $250,000 and $750,000, estimated Melissa Weintraub, spokesperson for Guernsey's.
Barker and Horsey said that they didn't think the storyboard or the auction in general would raise as much money as the auction house estimates. They don't think that the market could bear some of the estimates.
The International Museum of Cartoon Art was founded 26 years ago by Mort Walker, the cartoonist behind Beetle Bailey, and was housed in buildings in Connecticut and New York. In 1996, a permanent home was built for the museum in Boca Raton, Fla., where today approximately 50,000 visitors each year are able to enjoy the collection.
The auction will be held at the prominent New York Historical Society in New York City, while absentee bidders can bid online through leftbid.com. Guernsey's claims to have sold more cartoon art than any other auction house in the world, and in 1994 held a three-day event where more than 1,000 lots of cartoon art were successfully auctioned off.