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Other movies not to miss - Lincoln and Life of Pi

Posted on 2012.12.22 at 22:12
Current Mood: dorkydorky
While we were all preoccupied with The Hobbit, I wanted to comment on two truly excellent films I've seen in the past month. The first is Lincoln, directed by Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis with a luminous supporting cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Lee Pace, James Spader, and Hal Holbrook. But it's Daniel Day-Lewis who really shines here. He becomes Lincoln, including mimicking the high voice that Lincoln reportedly had, the tall, gaunt look, the stooped shoulders carrying the weight of the war as well as the personal sorrow of the death of his son and his wife's inability to cope with it. If the Academy doesn't award Day-Lewis Best Actor for this movie, then something is seriously wrong.

The movie feels like you've been popped into a time machine and taken back to 1864-65, sitting with these characters, or trundling after them through the muddy streets of Washington. The film is dark and gritty, looking just like a Mathew Brady black and white photo. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,the movie is about the passage of the 13th Constitutional amendment banning slavery. Before seeing the film, I didn't know all the background and machinations involved. It's something all students should see in order to learn how politics works. Spielberg and Tony Kushner who wrote the screenplay manage to make what could be complicated clear and easy to follow as well as create dramatic, grip-your-seat suspense. The story emanates from Lincoln's understanding that the Emancipation Proclamation was something he got away with because of war powers. He realized that once the war was over and the South had surrendered, there was no way the Emancipation Proclamation would stand. There was too much prejudice and fear on both sides of the aisle. Congress must make a constitutional amendment banning slavery for slaves to be permanently freed. So Lincoln must secure the number of votes needed and he must delay the Confederate peace delegation, with a terrible cost of lives.

I was so impressed with the portrayal of Lincoln as a clever politician with a wonderful dry wit and an appropriate story to defuse any difficult confrontation, but also deeply principled and savvy enough to see the long view, as well as what to do to get his more short-sighted colleagues to go along. Not to mention his more pragmatic cabinet members who get the job done. It was a team effort. It was interesting how contemporary the film was in its portrayal of the other petty, short-sighted politicians whose votes needed to be coddled and bought. Some aspects of human nature are timeless.

The other hero of the story is Thadeus Stevens, the witty and caustic Congressman from Pennsylvania and an ardent abolitionist who compromises his principles at a key point in order to achieve the greater good. Tommy Lee Jones does a fantastic job of conveying his character. And the repartee and name-calling during Congressional hearings, which he excelled at, was quite amusing. Tommy Lee Jones should get a nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

But in the end, it was Lincoln's character that shone through -- a towering, far-sighted man, willing to stand for his principles, someone not afraid to look at the results of his decisions and take responsibility for them, as his tour through the corpse-ridden battlefield showed. The movie is an amazing portrait of a complex, conflicted, and brilliant man.

This was a case where the trailer doesn't begin to tell you how good the movie is. Here it is anyway.

I was worried about going to see Life of Pi because I'd read the book several years ago and doubted that a movie could do it justice. But the film is very true to the book with all its complexity, humor, and musing about the meaning of life. The story is about a writer who has discarded his last book as trash. He meets an Indian man who tells him he knows someone who has a wonderful story to tell, a story that "will make you believe in God." Who could resist that? The writer travels to Canada and convinces the man to tell his story. Pi (his actual name is Piscine Molitor and thereby hangs a tale) grew up in India. His father owns a zoo. Pi is very interested in religion and becomes, through various events, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a Muslim. Economic difficulties force them to sell the zoo and move to Canada. While en route with their animals, the boat sinks and Pi finds himself on a lifeboat floating in the midst of the vast Pacific, with only an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena and a Bengal tiger for company. The story is a detailed account of how he survived. But more than that, it's about facing and subduing your fear, the instinct for survival, the great pulse of life on the planet, God, and illusion. What is real? Is it merely how we choose to perceive it?

Ang Lee directed the movie. Typical of Ang Lee, the cinematography is stunning, and the storytelling clear. The drama comes from the terror and grandeur of the natural world. It was a movie that not only was a visual feast but included much to think about and left one with a good feeling afterwards. Something for the eyes, mind, and spirit.

I imagine both Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee might be up for best director. If they aren't, they should be.


leaf_light at 2012-12-23 05:24 (UTC) (Link)
Those films both look very different and equally interesting. Thank you for inspiring me for wanting to check them out further. Ang Lee has always been a favourite director of mine, but I'm so out of the loop I hadn't even realised he'd done this.
elfscribe5 at 2012-12-23 05:46 (UTC) (Link)
Hi Leaf. Yes they are as different as they can be. But both benefit from the same basic elements: a good and meaningful story beautifully dramatized and visualized.
chaotic_binky at 2012-12-23 10:04 (UTC) (Link)
I want to see Life of Pi. It has hardly been advertised here.
elfscribe5 at 2012-12-24 01:08 (UTC) (Link)
It's quite good, worth finding.
nelyo_russandol at 2012-12-23 10:20 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the recs! I saw both trailers before the show in The Hobbit. Perhaps we'll be able to skive off to the cinema while my parents are here.
elfscribe5 at 2012-12-24 01:09 (UTC) (Link)
You're welcome. Actually I would say in terms of food for thought they are both better movies than The Hobbit. *gasp* Did I say that? But perhaps not as much fun for the geeky crowd.
alexcat at 2012-12-23 12:38 (UTC) (Link)
I found Lincoln to be one of the best films I'd seen in a long time. Lewis was amazing. I read that he actually had Ms. Goodwin go with him to Lincoln's boyhood home and tell him a lot about Lincoln, including his sense of humor. Ms. Goodwin said that was what she fell in love with about Lincoln too - that in the middle of all this darkness that he always had a funny story or a witty remark to bring a smile.

I probably won't see Pi in the theater but I do think I'll see it on dvd, especially after your review.

elfscribe5 at 2012-12-24 01:13 (UTC) (Link)
That's interesting that he did that. Makes sense. I understand he really studies for his roles. Pi was great on the big screen, but I'm sure DVD will be fine.
malinorne2003 at 2012-12-23 13:36 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you - both these films look like something I'd enjoy a lot! Lincoln may not make it to theatres here, but who knows? The Pi trailer was shown before The Hobbit and I was amazed by the beautiful pics and found the story interesting too. Part of me wants to find and read the book first, but the part that says to hurry up and take the chance to watch the movie on the big screen may win in the end. Movie tickets were part of this year's Christmas present at work, perhaps that's a sign? Lol!
elfscribe5 at 2012-12-24 01:15 (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure you'd love them. In the case of Life of Pi, I think you could enjoy it without reading the book first and then read the book. It was fairly close in most respects.
engarian at 2012-12-23 14:57 (UTC) (Link)
My friends seem split on Life of Pi, although everyone loves the cinematography of the film. Lincoln sounds like a winner, I think I'll do Redbox on that one. Oops...running late for work already *sigh*

- Erulisse (one L)
elfscribe5 at 2012-12-24 01:15 (UTC) (Link)
Why were they split on Life of Pi? Definitely check out Lincoln.
engarian at 2012-12-24 01:43 (UTC) (Link)
Everyone loved the cinematography of Pi, but several of my friends felt that the message and underlying structure of "God" and the hunt for "God" was a bit too "in your face", rather like Aslan and Narnia. Just over the top. But absolutely everyone agreed that as a visual treat, it was tops.

I'll for sure add Lincoln to our Redbox list. Maybe by spring my DH will have motivated enough to plug in our new DVD player - after all, we've only had the box sitting around for a month so far *frustrated sigh*.

- Erulisse (one L)
elfscribe5 at 2012-12-24 05:22 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, well as far as the God theme, it holds pretty true to the book, which I thought was a rather creative take on things. Not heavy-handed at all. But to each his own impression. As far as electronic equipment, I understand the reluctance to tamper with what is currently working. Our set-up is so complicated that I fear to mess with it.
engarian at 2012-12-24 11:33 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, but our DVD player only works sometimes - it likes to stop in the middle of playing discs which is why we shelled out for a new one. No, I fear in this case is it a bit of laziness coupled with the fact that he hates change of any kind. I'll have to kick him one of these days and then we'll get it done, but I'll wait until after the stresses of this calendar year are over.

Happy Christmas to you, my dear.

- Erulisse (one L)
phyncke at 2012-12-23 16:59 (UTC) (Link)
I saw Life of Pi and it was stunning. I am going to see Lincoln tonight.
elfscribe5 at 2012-12-24 01:16 (UTC) (Link)
Hope you enjoy it.
phyncke at 2012-12-24 19:04 (UTC) (Link)
I really loved it. Very un-Spielberg for a Spielberg movie. It did not go over the top with the sentimentality like he usually does. Very well done. All the performances were excellent. Definitely an Oscar worthy film. Loved.
elfscribe5 at 2013-01-02 03:40 (UTC) (Link)
I saw it again after Christmas with my family and liked it even better. A wonderful film in every way.
phyncke at 2013-01-02 05:39 (UTC) (Link)
I really hope it wins the Oscar. I liked it better than Les Miserables as a stronger film. So I am pulling for this one. Did you see Argo? You have to see that one.
dodger_sister at 2013-01-04 03:04 (UTC) (Link)
I have to admit that I had no prior interest in seeing Lincoln but I just watched that trailer and it gave me full-on goosebumps, so I am adding it to my list of things to watch!
elfscribe5 at 2013-01-04 03:51 (UTC) (Link)
I saw Lincoln again over the holidays and it thought it even more wonderful and powerful than the first time. I guess it's easier to look at the nuance once you've see it for the story. I was left with an incredibly positive feeling at the end, although the tragedy of the Lincoln's loss was also palpable. By all means go see it. I think it's the best movie of the year and one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.
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