Thursday, November 22, 2012


With Lincoln, Steven Spielberg once again proves his mettle as a genius at the art of film-making; and I fully expect it to receive multiple Oscars at the next Academy Awards ceremony.  To top that off, Daniel Day-Lewis succeeds, after more than seven decades, in unseating Raymond Massey as the quintessential Abraham Lincoln and is a shoe-in for a best actor nomination, if not the Oscar itself.

Simply put, the film chronicles the machinations involved in the abolition of the institution of slavery in the United states by the passage of the 13th Amendment:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

What I found really intriguing were the soul searching and the intricate, sometimes seamy, negotiations over whether or not to state the noticeably missing concept that Negroes were equal to whites.  It was quite a lesson in diplomacy and compromise.

All the while, Mr. Lincoln has to balance his responsibility to the nation with the stress of his family life.  His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), not recovered from the deaths of two sons and on the brink of insanity, is unaware of the silent suffering of her husband.  Their elder son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is determined to do his duty and join the army, which only adds to Mary's stress; while their younger son Tad (Gulliver McGrath) is a fixture at his father's side, sometimes out of place and underfoot.
The stellar cast also includes Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, David Strathairn as William Seward, James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, and more.

Spielberg and his team succeed brilliantly in bringing the characters in Tony Kushner's screenplay to life, adding humanity and context to two paragraphs of U.S. history. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jab Tak Hai Jaan

 It's a pleasure when a movie lives up to the hype and turns out to be just what you were hoping for.  Jab Tak Hai Jaan ("until I breathe this life" or "as long as I live") was worth the anticipation.  The film, starring Shah Rukh Khan as Samar, Katrina Kaif as Meera, and Anushka Sharma as Akira, tells a tale of star-crossed lovers and includes all the melodramatic trappings that make for a good romance and generate lots of tears.  There are true love, danger, amnesia, joy, sadness, anger, separation, making deals with God, wrestling with God, plenty of singing and dancing, a moving poem, and Shah Rukh Khan.  My hankie was well-used.

The film begins with a dedication to director Yash Chopra (sadly, without subtitles), who died less than a month before its release.  During the credits, instead of bloopers or an item number, clips show Chopra directing his final movie and interacting with the actors.  A fine tribute to a beloved Bollywood icon.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Late Quartet

A Late Quartet was more than a fascinating look at the relationships among the members of a string quartet. It also provided a music lesson sampler and some insight, without being maudlin, into the effect of Parkinson's disease on someone whose hands are an integral part of his being. Christopher Walken was superb in underplaying the role of cellist Peter, who recently lost his wife and now has to face life with Parkinson's Disease.  His decision to leave the quartet has a profound effect on the relationships of the other members: Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Juliette (Catherine Keener), and Daniel (Mark Ivanir).  The interactions among this ensemble cast, which also includes Imogen Poots as Robert and Juliette's daughter, Alexandra, are what makes the film work so well. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Skyfall took me on a ride down memory lane, but not necessarily the way you would think. It was a pleasure listening to the song during the opening credits - somewhat reminiscent of Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger. There was a point at the beginning of the film where I thought that they slipped in a scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  A real audience pleaser was the appearance of Bond's Astin Martin.  What really drove me to distraction, though, was the music during the final confrontation and requisite explosion - the theme was way too familiar. When I got home, I was compelled to watch scenes from Thor and The Avengers to identify the film. The theme in question appeared in The Avengers when the giant metal dragon attacks the city.  No, wait a minute, now I have to re-watch Battleship!  I just watched a clip from it, and heard the same theme.

The movie itself was not the best Bond fare; but I did enjoy it, even though it got to a point when I wanted to pull out my phone and check the time.  Judi Dench was competent as ever as M, Ralph Fiennes was enjoyable as Mallory, Ben Whishaw made a passable Q, Naomie Harris provided a nice surprise as Eve, and Albert Finney was a real treat as Kincade.  There was some amzaing acting from Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine. Then there was Javier Bardem as Silva, the mad and evil computer genius.  His role was over the top and just too cartoonish.

Daniel Craig is not my favorite Bond, but then nobody can really replace Sean Connery.  It's not all Craig's fault, but he plays Bond as too flawed and too emotional.  There is a scene, though, toward the end of the film that is actually silly and somewhat un-Bondish, but can be attributed to that bond between a boy and his car.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama

This week I had the privilege of attending a screening of 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama at one of my favorite movie houses, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.  Part of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia's GEOfest, the documentary was introduced by filmmaker Rick Ray and followed by a lively Q&A.  The film and interview addressed the issues of war, peace, non-violence, the Chinese occupation, the future of Tibetan culture, and the interdependence of all people.  This simple interview, interspersed with current and historical footage, solidified my opinion that the 14th Dalai Lama is one of the few truly holy men in world history.