November 23, 2012


A riveting political and legislative adventure, and a biopic of Abraham Lincoln, all rolled into one. Daniel Day-Lewis does a perfect job. We know Lincoln (and Day-Lewis) too well to ever forget this is a movie, but he does a perfect job of what we can realistically expect from a man playing such an icon. This feels like a perspective of what the man was really like.
I really appreciate biopics that use one pivotal event to describe a man. My main problem with A Beautiful Mind is that it covered decades of the man's life. Most of Lincoln covers a few weeks only, the leadup to the House vote on the 13th Amendment. Spielberg (with writer Tony Kushner) create a West Wing-style political thriller that feels completely contemporary, while simultaneously depicting Capitol Hill, 1865 in all its colorful differences.I especially loved the hallways of the White House and the Capitol Building clogged with office-seekers and constituents petitioning their government.

What a wonderful cast. One critic wrote "If Day-Lewis weren't in the movie, then Tommy Lee Jones would have stolen the whole thing" and I agree. I especially liked the lobbyists Seward hires to sway Democratic votes: James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson? What a trio! Spader is especially colorful - clearly he and Spielberg felt the movie needed to be leavened with levity.

It must be nice to be Spielberg and cast whoever you want in your films: I count SEVEN Academy Award winners or nominees in the cast:
  1. Daniel Day-Lewis
  2. Sally Field
  3. David Strathairn
  4. Hal Holbrook
  5. Tommy Lee Jones
  6. John Hawkes
  7. Jackie Earl Haley

Fun Fact: Hal Holbrook and Joseph Gordon-Levitt share a birthday, February 17 (56 years apart)
Theater Note: Before I had a child (and babysitters) I didn't care when a movie started. Now I am pissed off when they start showing 20 minutes of trailers at the time the movie is scheduled to start.
(With Emily, Black Friday 2012, Aviation Plaza Linden, NJ)

November 14, 2012

Celebration Day

I have a theory about successful rock and roll bands:
No successful rock and roll band has ever broken up and stayed broken up.
The financial incentives are eventually strong enough to reunite even the most broken of bands.
This theory only holds if all the band members are still alive. If key bandmembers die, the band may never reunite. (That gets to the core of what a "band" is - The Jimi Hendrix Experience never reunited, but were they really a band?) Even bands where the leader goes on to a successful solo career, sometimes a more lucrative career, they will still reunite: for example, I was disappointed but not surprised when The Police reunited after 20 years apart.
I have reviewed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member groups and the exception that proves my rule is The Smiths. All the bandmembers are still with us, the band broke up 29 years ago and they're still broken up. I challenge you to name another successful rock and roll band that broke up and stayed broken up?
In my youth, the gold standard for reunions were The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. It felt like The Beatles were broken up forever and permanently (since John Lennon died.) But 25 years after they broke up, the Fab Three reunited for two "new" singles featuring zombie John Lennon on lead vocal.
Most successful bands reunite not to record new songs, but to tour, where the real money lies. Led Zeppelin broke up after John Bonham died in 1980. The three surviving members have never toured or recorded new material together, but they have performed:

  • 1985: The band reunites for Live Aid. Page described the performance as "pretty shambolic", while Plant characterized it as an "atrocity". Phil Collins, sitting in on drums, implied in an 2016 interview that Page was too impaired to play properly - "drooling" was the word he used.
  • 1988: The band reunites again for the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert. Page described the performance as "one big disappointment", and Plant said that "the gig was foul".
  • 1995: The band plays at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction.
  • 2007: Led Zeppelin reunited for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert, which is the subject of this movie.

Their performance is terrific. I found that the performance peeled away their mystique and revealed the band for what they really were: the original, and best, blues-rock band. They sound like every blues-rock band you've ever heard over the succeeding generations, but Led Zep invented it.

At the Regent Theater, Arlington, with George and Scott; the only other movie I ever saw there was another classic rock movie, A Hard Day's Night, ten years earlier.

November 13, 2012

Guys Movie Night: Skyfall

Bond has cut closer to the heart than ever before in SKYFALL.
Bond never actually hits a target
with his gun in this movie.
In the Daniel Craig Era, Casino Royale presented Bond as a impulsive, not-quite-ready-for-double-O-status killer, and Quantum of Solace was a underbaked, implausible mess (thank you writers' strike), this third 21st century Bond film tests Bond's body and soul. His body is tested with a shaky rehabilitation from a gunshot wound; his soul is tested with questions of his purpose, his mortality, and his roots.

Javier Bardem is compelling as the villain. His introductory scene is a single, motionless, shot: Bardem approaches us across a great room, growing slowly in size onscreen until he's literally in Bond's lap. He tells one of those folksy stories which become more and more creepy as they go along. By the time he's done, he has the audience in the palm of his hand.
Bardem's blond hair, and especially his fake blond eyelashes, were terribly distracting.
The major flaw in the movie is the plot. The machinations of the story are cobbled together from spare parts of other movies. I am not asking a James Bond story to reinvent the wheel, but when Bond hides out on a tropical beach, I expected him to pass Jason Bourne jogging by. When the villain escapes, I expected the Joker to be riding shotgun, or perhaps Loki?
It's still gripping, high-quality entertainment: (My grade = B plus), but the Bourne trilogy has raised the bar on spy movies, and I can sense the Bond franchise is playing catchup.


November 1, 2012

Guys Movie Night: Seven Psychopaths

A sloppy and passe Tarantino-style shaggy-dog murder comedy. C-minus. Too gratuitously and graphically violent for even my calloused sensibility, and nowhere near sharp enough to hold my interest.
The opening scene is two hitmen, one dumb and one smart, dressed in black, casually discussing their next hit, John Dillinger, and the movies. Is writer-director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) deliberately honoring or parodying Pulp Fiction? It's too obvious to be a tribute and to on-the-nose to be a parody. There's plenty of late '90s style casual murder, colorful characters, tall tales, stories told in flashback, sex, nudity, and intense violence. This flavor of film was very fashionable in 1996 (see The Usual Suspects, Three Days In The Valley, Way of the Gun, and Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead), but it really rubbed me the wrong way.
The cast is all-star: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, and Tom Waits are good, although they seem to wander around the script with their dialog.
McDonagh was lucky to cast Harry Dean Stanton, Kevin Corrgian, and Gabourey Sidibe in bit parts.
I am fond of Slovenian native Zeljko Ivanek, with his grey complexion and dead blue eyes, he's a terrific character actor.
McDonagh's previous writing-directing effort, In Bruges, is also a darkly comic and surprisingly violent movie-- which I can recommend if you don't mind wholesale death of all the characters --but Seven Psychopaths fudges the tone out of whack. Also, the pacing in the last third grinds to a halt.
At the Belmont Studio Cinema with Adam, George, and Kevin