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.
One can only assume while watching last night's new 30 Rock that the episode's writers Vali Chandrasekaran and Robert Carlock had an especially bad experience while sitting on an Ashley Furniture couch, chewing Bazooka Joe bubblegum and watching a Lindsay Lohan movie. (I know, it sounds like a good time to me, too.) Because, with the exception of weekly hilarious target Mickey Rourke (who sent a bouquet filled with spiders this time around), no one got it worse on 30 Rock last night than couches, gum, and LiLo.
Then again, Jack and Jenna haven't exactly had the best go of things lately. Jack, desperate to stay in Hank Hooper's good graces, opened up Kabletown's line of Kouchtown couches that were manufactured in an American factory and built by especially inept American engineers (lead by guest star and SNL player Bobby Moynihan.) While the prototype for their couches were a hit (Liz was especially fond of the "absorbent material for nap drool") the final product turned out to feel more like a torture device used for interrogations. Which is exactly what they wound up being used for when the government purchased them back.
The couches may not have been Jack's best business plan, but it wasn't a total disaster. In fact, those spine-crushing pieces of "furniture" could be the very thing that gets Avery back on U.S. soil as one of the people subjected to one had intel on her. I must say, all of Alec Baldwin's off-screen drama aside, this was one of his funniest and most sincere turns all season. (His meltdown in front of the couch industry elite could rival Jenna's.) If Baldwin is going out like he keeps saying he is, good God, at least he's going out on top.
Meanwhile Jenna had her own Bad Idea of the Week when she opted to have a full-on celebrity meltdown in the hopes that it would win back Paul. How weird and reckless was it? In the end, it weirded Tracy out. That bad. She Kanye'd a spelling bee, jumped out of a window during a visit to The Today Show, made out with Paz de le Huerta at a children's museum, dined at Balthazar without a reservation and admitted she made a sex tape with the Six Flags guy. Still, against all odds, she wound up back in the arms of Paul L'astname. So did a poor handcuffed Tracy, too, for that matter.
The only person who wasn't having a bad time was none other than Liz Lemon. My how things have changed this season, eh? Despite the fact that Murphy Brown had lied to her and career women everywhere about having it all, Liz has still gotten her "real life" on track. After resigning to the fact that she wouldn't have kids, Jack secretly set up a meeting with a Terrible Kevin (not a good Kevin like a Sorbo or a Costner or a Garnett) so that Liz could meet his daughter Kat, who was a mini-Liz, complete with sarcastic sense of humor, glasses, an unwanted schoolyard nickname, and feel a connection to a youth. (Super Virgin meet Pukes in Thermos!)
Jack's plan to ensure there are more Liz Lemons in the world paid off. Liz realized she actually did want kids still and Criss agreed she'd make an awesome mom, though whether he'll be the one to have and raise a kid with her is up in the air. (Side note: Hollywood.com's own Kate Ward thinks James Marsden is a better catch than Ryan Gosling. Talk amongst yourselves.) While it's great that 30 Rock is finally giving Liz the life she wants and deserves, does her cheer that "Real life is starting" mean Liz Lemon has been lying to us, too? She has been a funny, aspirational, cheese-eating beacon for single career women everywhere for years. But if everything that lead to Criss and possibly a baby wasn't "real life" to Liz Lemon, what does it mean for the rest of us? Ack!
While you mull that over, here are the best lines and moments from last night's 30 Rock "Murphy Brown Lied To Us":
- Liz's clean up song from childhood: "Clean up, clean up, do your own housework, you little crackers!"
- Liz and Criss' gay porn reenactment.
- Those Clint Eastwood Super Bowl commercial spoofs for Kouchtown. ("Nunchucking can wear a guy out.")
- The visual of Raymour & Flannigan as conjoined twins. (If these couch companies weren't sponsors for 30 Rock before, they definitely aren't now.)
- Liz's baby Princess Leia costume. Ideal for getting out of baby jury duty!
- Jack's explanation of the early days of Bazooka Joe, which started as a pink rock quarry and at one point a "softer version of their gum was used to make armor-piercing bullets".
- Nixon 2016!
- Mythbusters is Liz's ultimate aphrodisiac.
- Liz's reason for going on a date with a stranger at a coffee shop: The possibility of a free ham sandwich and a jazz CD.
- Matt Lauer upping the journalist guest spot ante for Brian Williams.
- Jack's deep, dark secrets: He keeps buying candles as gifts and keeping them for himself, his natural hair color is bright red, he hates golf, and he once smoked a clove cigarette in college.
- Twitter is actually a media-savvy crackhead friend of Tracy's.
- Jenna's ex David Blaine doesn't actually levitate, he skateboards.
- Criss' catchphrase "It's game go!"
- Liz and Criss' idea of a good time is puzzles and stew.
-"This is outrageous, I didn't get to work an hour late just to be the first one here!" - Tracy
- "Years later the government took it over and turned it into a training facility for single mothers to teach illegal immigrants to fill out unemployment forms" - Jack at the Kouchtown factory where the engineers have only been equipped to make "roller coasters and Survivor challenges"
- "So you don't start with the breakdown? You have to build to it! Like a C + C Music Factory song! My heyday was also the '90s"- Jenna, on her meltdown
- "I'll finally get the acceptance every 39-year-old man craves from his girlfriend's boss"- Criss, on Jack
- "People who talk the most in meetings often know the least" - Mini-Liz Kat's philosophy after experiencing the insulting Take Your Daughter to Work Day
- "Sink them and create a reef to protect gay turtles? I don't know and I don't care"- Jack, on the fate of Kabletown couches after the CIA took them
What did you think of last night's 30 Rock? Are you happy to see Liz finally getting her life in order or did it send the message that a woman's life doesn't actually start until she finds the right guy and has a kid? Blergh. Are you excited for next week's live episode? Sound off in the comments section.
[Photo credit: NBC]
Tina Fey Says The End is Near for 30 Rock
30 Rock Recap: Six Seasons and a Donaghy
30 Rock Recap: We Found Hornberger in a Hopeless Place
If you have ever been embarrassed by your big loud family then you will certainly relate to Toula (played by Nia Vardalos) the narrator and main character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. After all her suburban home is modeled after the Parthenon and her father (played by Michael Constantine) believes a squirt of Windex can cure anything--including bursitis--and that every word in the English language derives from a Greek root. At 30 Toula is still living at home and kowtowing to her strict father--who believes that every Greek woman's ambition should be to marry a Greek man have Greek children and feed everyone until she dies. Suffice it to say he is less than happy when Toula becomes engaged to Ian (played by John Corbett)--a non-Greek. What ensues is a hilarious tale of what happens when two families--one loud Greek Orthodox the other conservative Episcopalian--must reconcile their differences for the sake of their children's happiness. Vardalos' narration of the events that are occurring--and how she feels about them--helps draw the viewer into Toula's world.
Vardalos is great as Toula and presents her character's traits and peculiarities fittingly well like her low self-esteem and the way she slouches. More importantly Vardalos made Toula's character believable. When Toula begins taking classes at a local college her confidence improves she puts on a little makeup combs her hair and voila! She's transformed into a beautiful person oozing happiness. It's quite charming. Corbett is well cast as the sweet and accepting fiancé but he comes across as a little bland. That really dated haircut certainly doesn't win him any points either. Constantine as Toula's strict father is chauvinistic and thick-headed but he plays his cards just right so you can never really hate the character straight out even though he treats his wife and kids like a Neanderthal would. As Aunt Voula Andrea Martin is by far the most hilarious of the bunch and she delivers each line with zany conviction. For all you 'N Sync fans Joey Fatone has a small role as Toula's cousin and has maybe three lines in the film.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is based on comedy writer Vardalos' one-woman show. Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson saw the show and apparently liked it so much they decided to produce it through their Playtone studio. Directed by Joel Zwick the film is not the first to deal with big weddings and what happens when too many family members get involved. Ang Lee did it better with the 1993 romantic comedy The Wedding Banquet about a gay Taiwanese-American man who marries a young Chinese woman to satisfy his parents as did Mira Nair with last year's Monsoon Wedding about an arranged Indian marriage. But Zwick who has directed a slew of TV shows from Happy Days to The Wayans Brothers keeps things fresh and funny despite the tired storyline. Set in Chicago but filmed in Toronto the film feels authentic especially the scenes in the family's diner Dancing Zorbas their house and their neighborhood. But the movie could have done without the cartoonish old-world granny with anti-Turkish sentiment.
Welcome to the world of klutzy assistant veterinarian Corky Romano (Kattan) who loves bad '80s music and is by nature a cheery fellow. However he is also the son of an organized crime family who was kicked out long ago for not fitting in. Hmm wonder why? When the family including "Pops" Romano (Peter Falk) and his two dysfunctional sons Peter (Peter Berg) and Paulie (Chris Penn) come under FBI investigation they convince Corky to go undercover and join the FBI to disrupt the case. Corky becomes the darling of the bureau through no fault of his own which irks its resident jerk (Matthew Glave) who loathes Corky from the start. Seems Corky's bogus FBI résumé has been beefed up to enable him to gain access to his father's case file. It all ends predictably happy.
Saturday Night Live's Kattan is at his best when going out on the comedy limb and as Corky he climbs out with élan rather than dropping with a sickening thud. Corky is a fun character infused with that manic energy Kattan displays so well in his SNL personas. He is very close to being able to carry this film. But alas this isn't quite the role that could establish him as a leading man. Veteran Falk who has about one moment where he is really funny and Fred Ward who plays the family's right-hand man are the only other actors of Kattan's caliber in the film and their characters seem to have been watered down to allow Kattan to shine. The other performances while serviceable fall right into cardboard cutouts especially those in the FBI. Clearly the casting was done with an eye on keeping the audience squarely focused on star Kattan. in star focus.
Unfortunately keeping Kattan in the forefront is also one of the main problems with the film. It was nice watching all the comic's antics laughing our butts off as he jerks his way down the aisle after inhaling a bunch of cocaine but couldn't we have had a good story to go along with it? Here the story exists exclusively to provide setups for Kattan's gags. Do we have to see a bunch of FBI agents make fools of themselves again? The film seems to follow the same route other SNL stars have taken recently focusing on the comedian rather than the film as a whole. At least Corky is not based on one of Kattan's SNL characters. Will Ferrell seems to be one of the only SNL members to have mostly steered clear of any star-making opportunities seemingly satisfied with playing really funny supporting characters (not counting A Night at the Roxbury). Maybe Kattan would be better served following the lead of his good friend.