Lincoln/Argo

lincoln-poster_743x1100“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” wrote philosopher George Santayana. (No, those are not the lyrics to “Smooth”; that was a different Santana.) It’s a good thing we have movies to help us remember history, since most students are probably texting in class and completely forgetting what they weren’t paying attention to in the first place. But lest you think that history is boring, might I suggest you shut off your phone and immerse yourself in two different films that will not only educate you but make you stand up and cheer for filmmaking at its’ best.

Lincoln is an astonishing portrait of the man during a two-month period in the second term of our 16th president; with the end of the bloody Civil War finally in sight, he knows that the chances of abolishing slavery for good hinge on the passage of the 13th Amendment – but it must be done before the peace is achieved. The parallels to our modern politics are astonishing — apparently our present day Congress learned everything they know about lying, bribery and dealing from this group of senators in 1865. The film is a fascinating insight into how laws are passed, most of them notably absent of what might be right or noble but more about who benefits the most.

Daniel Day-Lewis carries the movie as Lincoln, much as Abe carries the burdens of the world on his broad shoulders. This isn’t so much a performance as a channeling of Lincoln’s tormented, depressed spirit as he struggles to do what he knows must be done. Sally Field is Mary Todd Lincoln and for the first time in a long time, disappears into the character to the point that I forgot she was Sally Field. She was that crazy.

This is a really good movie, and Stephen Spielberg’s direction and Tony Kushner’s screenplay both deserve the accolades that are being thrown at them. The ending was classic Steve, as I’ve always thought he can’t resist taking things one step farther than is necessary. I don’t think I need to add a spoiler alert to say that Lincoln dies at the end (duh), but I would have liked the film to close with the triumph of signing the amendment. To take it beyond that moment to the death-bed was like showing the aliens at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind; he just can’t help himself.

Argo-Movie-PosterOur next history lesson shows up in Argo, a semi-true story based on recently declassified information that shares what happened to the six American employees who escaped the embassy during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. I say “semi-true” because apparently there was a lot of poetic license taken with the script, and many of the most exciting scenes are complete fiction. So take the history aspect with a bit of skepticism and just enjoy it as tense action thriller that is also wonderfully bizarre and funny. Alan Arkin and John Goodman completely steal the picture as a Hollywood producer and make-up artist who set up a production team for the totally fake movie “Argo” that becomes the CIA’s cover story to get the Americans out of Iran. The title sets itself up nicely for a little obscene catch phrase that the characters cannot resist saying. I kind of want it on a T-shirt.

Ben Affleck has come a long way as a director and the film is tight with edge of the seat tension, although he still manages to include a totally gratuitous shot of himself with his shirt off. Oh Ben, don’t ever change.

Unlike Lincoln, which is pretty much put the camera in one place and let the actors do the heavy lifting, Argo is all over the place with shaky archival footage of the actual event and choppy editing to create the fast-moving pace. (I guess Spielberg couldn’t get any archival footage). But despite the gut-wrenching effect produced by the hand-held cameras, I am grateful for this movie because it set up one of the best jokes ever on 30Rock :

Liz Lemon: “Because I’m Liz Lemon! My parents spent the money they saved up for my wedding on a PT Cruiser! I have been sure for a long time that this was never gonna happen, and I was fine with it! Ergo, it couldn’t matter!”

Ex-boyfriend: “Ergo, Affleck’s finally going to get that Oscar!”

 

Barf Bag ratings:
Lincoln: ZERO BAGS
Argo: THREE BAGSThree bags

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