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. 11th 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 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 biography Doris Kearns Goodwin's 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 road block after road block 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 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 confidantes, 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 non-violent 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 Stuhlberg, 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're important issues, but 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 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, but surprisingly, 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.
[Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures (2)]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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It’s official. We’re all old. Today, June 11, is the 10th anniversary of American Idol, which means the series is basically the age of a precocious, articulate child. (Are you ready for the pre-teen years, Nigel Lythgoe?) In honor of the series that has surprised, delighted, entertained, and enraged us for the past 10 years, we’ve compiled the show’s best, worst, and WTF moments. But listing the series’ best performances would be too easy. Instead, we've decided to look back at the non-musical moments — after all, we can't forget the outrageous fights, falls, and outfits meriting a slack-jawed double-take. These are the non-competition-based moments you probably forgot (and many that you’re still trying to).
Thanks for 10 entertaining, perplexing years (and Season 9), Idol!
Best of the Best
Kelly Clarkson’s Finale Breakdown with Nikki McKibbin and Tamyra Gray: This adorable break of emotion follows what is still the best finale moment of the series (no winner’s single can beat “A Moment Like This”), but the best part was when Clarkson couldn’t manage the final line due to an overwhelming wave of emotion. And when Nikki and Tamyra joined her in a group hug and helped their girl out (Nikki perhaps a bit too much), it truly felt like an expression of family, instead of cutthroat competition.
Ruben Studdard Earns a Nickname: “The Velvet Teddy Bear”
Juanita Barber Gets Testy With Simon: She was wrong. So totally wrong. But man, did it feel good to see some dish it back to King of Mean, Simon Cowell.
Season 5’s Ayla Brown Gets Famous Again When Scott Brown Tells the World She’s “Available”: Hey, thank God her Idol fame came back into the spotlight, or she’d have to settle for just being Brown’s “available” daughter. No one wants to be famous for being pimped out by your politician father.
Sanjaya’s Ponk Hawk: There are no words for this glorious incident. Only video.
Anthony Fedorov’s Transformation: He showed up looking like Revenge of the Nerds: R&B Adventure, but by the end of his Season 4 run, he looked more like a back-up Nick Carter. How this prepared him for his future role as Jesus Christ: Superstar, remains a mystery.
Chris Sligh’s Inspiration for Auditioning Was “To Make David Hasselhoff Cry”: This guy, he’s got jokes. And that one was a classic.
Queen Couldn’t Stand Ace Young’s “We Will Rock You” Either: In rehearsals, Brian May tells Young, "I will not do that to my song," when the contestant asks if he could spice up its beats. There’s nothing quite like the vindication of knowing a legendary rock band agrees with you.
Phil Stacey’s Helluva Day: In the same day, Phil Stacey wowed the judging panel in his audition, walked away with a golden ticket, and became a father.
Kelly Pickler’s Wealth of Ditzy One-Liners: The Season 7 contestant never failed to make us laugh, even if she wasn’t sure why. From the mind-boggling “What’s a ballsy?” to the classic “I had salmon,” Miss Pickler regularly had us in stiches.
Idol Gives Back Gives Us a Good Laugh: Idol Gives Back gave us back a little hope after a dreadful Season 9 in the form of some giggles. Russell Brand and Jonah Hill attempted to make us laugh with their cross-promotional Get Him to the Greek mumbo jumbo, but it was Wanda Sykes grilling Simon that really did the trick. Plus, let us take hilarious note of Tim Urban’s ditzy moment at the 1:20 mark.
Kara and Paula Give Bikini Girl a Piece of Their Minds: The bobble-headed Bikini Girl of Season 8 has become infamous. Not only did she attempt to set women-kind back about a 100 years with her sexist stunt of an audition, but she just wasn’t that great. Leave it to the ladies, Kara and Paula, to show her what real singing sounds like… even if it did descend into the madness of a giggly screechfest.
Screechfest Part Deux: Katy Perry vs. Kara: We all knew it was almost time for Kara to take a hike, and Katy Perry was the perfect sassy lady to help her in the right direction (and throw a coke in her face).
Scotty McCreery Apologizes For Bullying Jacee Badeaux: During the Season 10 auditions, the poor 15-year-old was left without a group mere hours before group performances and no one would have the youngster. The little guy spent most of the night crying until he finally found a group, but the real tender moment came when future winner Scotty McCreery took to the stage to deliver a sincere apology for adding to the kid’s terror.
Heejun Han “Talks a Lot of Craps” About Richie The Cowboy: Best. Group Week Fight. Ever. Oh, Heejun, you need a sitcom. It was hilarious watching Richie push Heejun’s every button and hearing Heejun’s annoyed responses about “hating all cowboys… even the Dallas cowboys,” but his “apology” took the cake:
Next: And now, for the Worst moments…Worst Moments – So Bad, They’re Good
Ryan Starr’s Mind-Boggling Wardrobe: Note to future Idol contestants: Try not to look like you’re hoping to be America’s Next Singing Gladiator when you’re on that very public stage.
Clay Aiken. Singing a Grease Song. In a red leather jacket: Song choice aside, let us analyze this ridiculous get-up. Dear Clay, this was about as tough as a teddy bear in a gladiator costume. Sorry, Clay, but Tim Gunn would not approve.
William Hung Followed Up His Idol Audition With “Success”: And by that, we mean some very “discerning” consumers paid money for his “album.”
Elton John Called Voting “Racist” When Jennifer Hudson and LaToya London Were Eliminated: There’s just one small issue with Sir John’s argument. That same season, Fantasia Barrino took home the Idol title.
Jonathan Rey Throws Water at Simon: This angry auditioner didn’t like what Cowell had to say (either that or he was just as curious about what was in that mysterious Coke cup) and he upended Simon’s Coca-Cola Chalice all over the cranky judge.
The Brittenum Twins Break the Law Before Showtime: After making it through Hollywood week, these singing twins threw it all away when they were busted for identity theft and were removed from the show. Idol says: Crime Doesn’t Pay.
Season 6’s Jared Cotter Dedicates “Let’s Get It On” To His Parents: Yes, you should always thank your parents. But maybe, just maybe, check the words of the song you’re about to sing before you dedicate a sex anthem to mommy and daddy. It’s just a thought.
Danny Noriega Nabs Himself a Catchphrase: Too bad “I guess they weren’t likin' it” wasn’t what America was looking for in an Idol.
Simon Tells Ryan to “Come Out Already”: These two were constantly in hot water for their homophobic banter, but this cantankerous reply from Simon Cowell took the cake. It’s one of those things we wish we could forget, but unfortunately, it’s on YouTube.
Kristy Lee Cook Gets a Little Bold With Simon: There’s defending yourself, and then there’s sticking your foot in your mouth. Guess which one describes Kristy…
Ryan Tries to Hive-Five Scott MacIntyre: Hey Seacrest, let’s try to not grab a blind guy’s hand and force him to high five you. That’s not awkward at all.
Everything Siobhan Magnus Ever Wore: She may have had a set of pipes for days, but Siobhan consistently looked like she walked into a closet covered in glue and wore whatever managed to attach itself to her sticky figure.
Kara Picks a Fight With a Guy Who's Clearly Screwing With Her: Part of the deal for an American Idol judge is putting up with the obviously fabricated characters the producers throw at them, but usually, the judges seem to be in on the game. Kara didn't quite get that concept, especially when the handsome and terribly annoying Andrew Fenlon waltzed into the audition room.
Casey James’ Creepy Audition: Yes, Kara, you had to endure Bikini Girl, but please don’t turn what should be an innocent audition into your wild, uncomfortable fantasy. We don’t want to join you in that apparently dark place.
Jennifer Lopez Cries for Chris Medina: When the judges had to eliminate Season 10 hopeful Chris Medina, despite his incredible tear-jerker of a love story, we understood Jennifer's pain. Her drama taking up the majority of the camera time, however...
Jermaine Jones is Chastized and DQ’ed on National Television: It’s understandable that the Idol producers would like to make sure they explained Jones’ sudden departure, especially after the media broke the story before his last episode could air, but this “interview” was just cruel and unusual. It’s one thing to have your past indiscretions aired all over the media, but it’s completely another to have your past indiscretions explained to you like you’re a child in front of 14 million people.
The Birth of Randy’s “Yo” Pin: Season 11 saw Randy’s favorite accessory come out to compete against Steven Tyler’s scarf collection and Jennifer Lopez’ hair. There’s just one snag with his little plan: “Yo” is not a catchphrase, my friend.
What’s you favorite – or least favorite – non-musical Idol moment?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
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