Shortly after reelection, with the end of the Civil War in sight, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) decides to take advantage of a lame duck Congress in order to pass the thirteenth amendment which abolished slavery. The idea is that many of the Democrat Congressmen that were not reelected could be convinced into voting for the amendment seeing that they would suffer no political consequences. Meanwhile, the president battles family troubles as his oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wishes to enlist in the army and serve his country against his mother’s (Sally Field) wishes, who is still mourning the death of one of the youngest children.
While Abraham Lincoln is one of the most famous men that ever lived, little is known about who he was. He lived in a time before film could capture the sound of his voice or the way he walked but Day-Lewis becomes him so completely it just may be how we picture the man from now on. One thing the film does well is show Lincoln as a man not a saint. While it is still a very complimentary portrayal, this Lincoln has a sense of humor, often telling funny stories to the troops and his cabinet. Lincoln was known by his peers as a lover of a good joke and it’s great to see that side of him celebrated.
While Day-Lewis was the stand out of the film, the rest of the cast is strong. Tommy Lee Jones is stellar as Congressman Thaddeus Stephens, the dedicated abolitionist who must learn to hold back and compromise for the good of the cause. The film does a great job of making the legislative parts fun by showing how feisty Congressional sessions could get. Republicans and Democrats fling cleverly crafted insults at each other. James Spader is also hilarious as part of the team lobbying to change the outgoing Democrats’ minds. Sally Field does well as the emotionally unstable Mary Todd Lincoln and Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes you wish his role was larger.
It was a bold move by Spielberg to make the passing of the thirteenth amendment the focus of the film. For a filmmaker known for large action movies, this film has a lot of talking. Considering there is a war waging in the background throughout, the climax is a vote. The suspense caused by what men will say yay and which with say nay. Also, considering Lincoln is know as much for being assassinated as for freeing the slaves, his death is portrayed as an afterthought. It is clear Spielberg sees Lincoln’s life as the remarkable story, not his death.
Considering the subject matter, the film is careful not to stumble into schmaltzy territory. There are a few moments where it stumbles in that respect, namely the opening where soldiers, white and black, recite the Gettysburg Address to Lincoln. However, I must say I was proud of Spielberg for not winking at the audience when reciting what future could hold for black America after slavery was abolished by having someone say something like “What next, a black president?”
While this isn’t a film I would say must be seen on the big screen, it should be seen by anyone that appreciates top-notch acting and doesn’t think big explosions are needed to keep an audience entertained.

Indiana Jones

While vacationing in Maui, old film school chums George Lucas and Steven Spielberg discussed what projects they wanted to work on next after their respective smashes Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg confessed he wanted to make a James Bond film but Lucas told him he had an even better film in mind. His love of serials of the 30s and 40s lead to the creation of archeologist Indiana Jones. Spielberg loved the idea. They originally cast Tom Selleck as their lead but he had to back out to star in the television series Magnum P.I. They went back to Spielberg’s first choice, Harrison Ford. However, Lucas was at first reluctant to cast Ford, not wanting him to become his “Bobby De Niro” after working with him on two other films all ready, but he proved to be the perfect fit for Nazi fighting, whip cracking adventurer.
Indiana Jones stands out among movie heroes because he is not superhuman. His strengths are his extensive knowledge of ancient civilizations and his bravery and dedication when seeking out great archeological discoveries. However, he is far from perfect. He’s gruff, has trouble maintaining relationships with family members and romantic partners, he’s not always the best judge of character, he’s terrified of snakes and he frequently gets serious injured. Our introduction to the character is him losing. An important artifact ends up in the hands of a rival but Indy remains a hero because he’s quick with the one-liner and has Harrison Ford’s charming grin. Hell, the Nazis even obtain ark of the covenant and are defeated by an act of God, not Indy. However, it is Indy’s knowledge of the ark’s power that saves him and Marion and allows for the ark to stay out of the wrong hands for good. Nowadays flawed heroes are a dime a dozen, but every House or Iron Man owes a lot to Indy.
Keeping with the James Bond influence, Indy is given a new leading lady to romance for every adventure (at least for the original trilogy). However, they screwed up by partnering Indy with his soul mate in the first film. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) is tough, brave, and shares Indy’s passion for archeology through her father, Indy’s mentor. Temple of Doom is a prequel so Marion’s absence can be excused but it is a little uncomfortable to watch enter a physical relationship with Elsa. While it’s quickly revealed Elsa is a Nazi spy and their relationship never gets very deep, you still know he belongs with Marion. The one saving grace of Crystal Skull is seeing Indy and Marion reunited and finally making it work. Ford and Allen really have amazing chemistry and it’s always fun to watch them bicker.
For the second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg wanted a darker feel, as he and Lucas were ending relationships. However, the change in tone isn’t the best fit for Indy and especially when he saddled with cartoonish sidekicks like Short Round and romantic interest Willie (Kate Capshaw). Willie is spoiled and helpless, the opposite of Marion but Indy and Willie fall for each other because they are the male and female leads in a blockbuster film. While it has some famous scenes (like the scene where a man’s heart is ripped out of his chest), the film is mostly inconsequential and can probably be skipped if one is short on time. Even Spielberg wasn’t too fond of Temple of Doom, saying the film’s saving grace was that it introduced him to future wife Capshaw.
For Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy is back at what he does best, keeping biblical artifacts from the Nazis. Ford is teamed with Sean Connery who plays Indy’s estranged father, a fellow archeologist. The two are a great together as they butt head as only father and son can.
Lucas originally intended to have five films in the series. When he originally convinced Spielberg to direct, he told his old friend he had three adventures plotted for Indiana Jones. However, Lucas is a lying liar who lies a lot (see the prequels that he claimed to have written decades in advance) he only had the first one complete. After Last Crusade, Lucas struggled to come up with a new story. After nineteen years and countless rewrites , they unleashed Indiana Jones and the Crystal Kingdom.
Aliens!!! Shia LaBeouf monkey boy!!! Surviving a nuke by hiding in a fridge!!! Asking if I was disappointed is like asking if Indy hates snakes. While I was anticipating it being hard to watch a slowed down, aging Ford trying to keep up with a kid like LaBeouf, I didn’t expect the writers to stray so much from Indy’s core. My husband and I have debated whether aliens were that much more unbelievable than, say, the Holy Grail and I think they are. Regardless of religious belief, most of us can agree that Jesus and Moses lived and certain events happened and can be studied for historical content. Whether objects they possessed have supernatural powers are up to debate, but these object most likely existed and would be certainly sought after by archeologists. To have a Mayan(?) temple really be an alien spaceship and then have the spaceship take off… grrr Lucas, Spielberg!!! This continues the duo’s trend of desecrating their their former masterpieces. We can’t let them play together any more. I’m clearly not the only one who feels this was, as South Park released an episode where they accused the two directors of raping Indiana Jones.
There are whispers of future adventures for Indy and crew, or simply allowing LaBeouf take over the series. I hope they can obtain the self-control to leave well enough alone. If you’ve never seen Indiana Jones, schedule a double feature of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade. If you have time, squeeze Temple of Doom in there too. And if you must watch Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, make sure there’s liquor handy.

Jurassic Park

Almost everybody has that one movie that leaves such an impact that it percolates into every aspect of their life and the degree to which I was obsessed with this movie is pathetic. To set the scene I was six years old and visiting my uncle. One night my dad took my sister to see “Rookie of the Year” and my Mom and uncle took me to see this movie. The screen was gigantic and the sound system was incredible. At the time I was already obsessed with dinosaurs and films such as the Ray Haryhaussan fair and monster movies like King Kong and Godzilla. Whenever I had seen dinosaurs in film they were either cartoons or action-figure looking stop motion puppets. The dinosaurs in this movie looked more real than I had ever seen. In my little six year old head these weren’t CGI models (oh how desensitized we’ve become) these were REAL dinosaurs. Already in awe I was not ready for the Tyrannosaurus. He ripped down the fence, let out that roar, and I ran screaming out of the theater….
With help from my Uncle I went back in, and ran out again when the Velociraptors came out….., then went back it again and this time stayed till the end of the movie. At the time it was the most intense movie I’d seen and still one of the best theater experiences of my life. Afterwards I couldn’t get enough. Christmas that year was dominated with the toys (all with the JP logo cause otherwise it’s extinct), I had the bedsheets, clothing, and even had a subscription to a Dinosaur magazine. I knew enough about them to know that in real life the Velociraptor stood only 3 feet tall. The real threats were Deinonychus at 6 feet and Utahraptor at 9 feet. Yeah I was a dork…
One question however is Nostalgia aside, does this movie still hold up? In my opinion yes it does. The story of man vs. nature combined with corporate greed is well done. The human characters while not the focus are interesting, especially Ian Malcolm. Yeah I know it’s just Jeff Goldblum playing himself, but dammit it’s the role he was born to play, if you don’t believe me read the book and try not to think of him. Love Sam Neil, Richard Attenborough, Laura Dern. The kid actors also do a good job, they’re the right level of obnoxious. No matter whose name came first in the credits the effects and the dinosaurs are the stars and even compared to today’s standards of CGI the dinosaurs look incredible. I would even say the T-Rex and the raptors look more real than most of today’s CGI characters, maybe it’s because we’re so use to it now but who knows. I think it was because they had to match the CGI with the animatronics and the CGI department really wanted to prove it could work so they worked extra hard. It was only until I saw it on Blu-ray did they look alittle cartoonish, but not much! They seemed to treat the dinosaurs almost as characters with ILM and the animatronics of the late Stan Winston playing the parts, and they perfectly act like real animals would. On top of it, it has one of the most awesome endings of any action movies. (Spoilers) It’s like the T-rex is showing the Raptors who’s boss, looks at the camera and saying to everyone in the theater “I’m the star of this movie, BITCH!” A movie that can have a T-rex break the fourth wall is fine by me. Yeah it’s a movie that stars the special effects but they’re really well done and have great story and character to complement them. It’s not Citizen Kane or Goodfellas but it’s not supposed to be. It’s just a damn fun action adventure movie, and it can tap into the 6 year old boy in us all (well almost all, can’t please everybody).
As for the sequels I’ll keep it short and sweet. I understand why a lot of people don’t like “The Lost World” but I’m part of the minority that likes it. Yes the characters and story are just an excuse to have dinosaurs to destroy stuff, but I like it. I actually like the invasion of San Diego at the end BECAUSE of how like Godzilla it is. It’s a guilty pleasure, what can I say?
Jurassic Park 3 flat out sucked. Yea the dinosaurs look great, but it insults our intelligence but asking us to believe that a satellite phone is capable of surviving being swallowed by a dinosaur, is loud enough to be heard inside it, rings at the right time for the characters to find each other due to it, gets shat out where the characters can retrieve it, rings right as they’re passing it, and has just enough juice to make one phone call… Also it kills off the T-Rex in favor of some finned Alligator no one cares about. You literally killed part of my childhood, Screw You!
As far as the rumors of a fourth movie in the works, Que Sera Sera. There’s always a chance to redeem it and they already ran it into the ground. If they’re gonna make it I’ll go see it, the six year old me won’t allow otherwise.
Fun Fact: Even though it’s called Jurassic Park, most of the Dinosaurs in the movie are from the Cretaceous period, Again….. Dork!

Scribbled by Alex

Saving Private Ryan Vs. Band of Brothers

There are many great films about World War II, but two that stand out in my mind is Spielberg’s masterpiece Saving Private Ryan and the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. I find these works to be good companion pieces, because whenever I watch one, I am reminded how great the other is as well. They cover roughly the same period of the war, and both are clearly passion projects for Spielberg and Hanks. Here are some of my favorite elements of both films (contains spoilers):
Compelling casts: Both have impressive casts featuring a lot of actors we’re not used to seeing in these kinds of projects, like David Swimmer as the pain in the ass Captain Sobel or Ted Danson who briefly appears as the other Private Ryan’s commanding officer. Everyone is stellar in both works, but there are some stand-outs for me.
Saving Private Ryan- Tom Hanks: I’m a big Hanks fan but I think this is my favorite performance of his. His portrayal of the Captain who was an English teacher back home but remains a mystery to his fellow soldiers is a subtle performance, which explains why he was snubbed at the 1999 Oscars, losing best actor to Roberto Benigni. I appreciate subtly, the Academy does not. He’s a man changed by war, and while he’s eager to return home, he’s worried about finding out how different he really has become.
Band of Brothers – Ron Livingston: Known best for his work in the workplace comedy Office Space, Livingston was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance of Captain Lewis Nixon. While clearly a good solider, by the end of the series he has had his fill of army life. He’s sarcastic, often drunk, and sees no glory in any of it anymore, but he continues to throw himself out of planes. His friendship with Major Dick Winters (Damian Lewis who won a Golden Globe for his performance) is an important element of the series. Winters is a model soldier and they often provide conflicting views on the war. When writing letters to families back home, informing them their loved one had been killed, Nixon is at a loss over what to write. Winters tells him to say they died heroes, but Nixon doesn’t know if he believes that anymore.
Comic Relief: One thing that gets overlooked when discussing World War II is that these soldiers were kids who were completely unprepared for what they were getting themselves into when they signed up. Companies of men were forced together for long stretches of time, creating a family type unit (or a band of brothers- get it). You get enough 18 year old boys together, there’s going to be some goofiness, even under thedirest circumstances.
Saving Private Ryan- the other Private Ryan. Captain Miller and crew find a Private James Ryan and inform him that his brothers are dead, only to find out it’s the wrong man. This other Ryan (played by future space captain Nathan Fillion) is a blubbering mess and desperate to know how all his brothers could have possibly been killed, seeing that they are all under the age of ten. Miller realizes the error and assures him he’s sure the little guys are fine, but is more than a little annoyed about all this.
Band of Brothers- Sgt George Luz : This guy steals every scene he’s in, as Easy Company’s resident expert impressionist. From tricking Captain Sobel during a training exercise, to having a smart answer for every stupid question, this radio man rarely lets on that he’s one false move away from instant death. He gets bonus points from because he’s played by Rick Gomez, who was also big Pete’s number one bully “Endless” Mike on Pete and Pete.
Heartbreaking scenes: You never forget these movies are about war. World War II was an extremely traumatic time for America. Everyone knew someone who was fighting and many knew a kid who lost their life. World War II also featured one of the most villainous characters in the history of mankind, Adolf Hitler, who was responsible for some of the most gruesome atrocities the world has ever known. Both films beautifully capture the horrors of war.
Saving Private Ryan- Giovanni Ribisi crying for his mother: When their medic is shot, the troops hurry to try to save him while he tries to guide them. Knowing the severity of his injury, he begins to call for his mother and wishes he could go home. You can’t help but think of how many boys died in the middle of a battlefield so far from home. This scene is enough to make you wonder “Is any cause worth this?”
Band of Brothers- the finding of the Concentration Camp: It’s easy to forget that America did not know about Hitler’s death camps until the tail end of the war. While they were aware the Nazis were trying to rid Germany of their Jewish community, it was not yet known how complete this obsession had become. When Easy Company stumbles upon a concentration camp, they are stunned at what they have found and have to piece together exactly what they’ve uncovered. Even Luz is speechless. Even more devastating, they learn they can’t even feed these starving people, because if they eat more than their withered bodies can handle, they will die.
While not everyone would find a World War II movie marathon to be the best way to spend a weekend, if you haven’t seen these films, I strongly urge you to rectify this immediately. They are both beautiful representations of one of the darkest times in world history, with surprising performances, brilliant scripts, and amazing special effects that completely capture the trama of war.

  • Catch Me If You Can

    I often forget about Catch Me If You Can. I own it on DVD but really only watch it if I catch it on cable. It’s a shame because this film has amazing performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken and is among Steven Spielberg’s best work. I think what makes this movie so hard to remember, is that it’s so unlike anything we’re used to by these titans of the medium. The film tells the true story of how Frank Abagnale Jr survives on the run by forging checks and creating multiple fake identities, only to attract the attention of FBI agent Frank Hanratty, who makes it his goal to capture the kid.

    This film is about growing up. We all had a moment in our childhood where we learned an adult we admire was less than perfect, so we can relate to the pain Frank Jr feels when he learns the truth about his father and sees the collapse of is parent’s seemingly perfect marriage. Frank Jr’s reaction is to run from the pain and create new realities for himself. It isn’t until he meets and falls for the troubled Brenda (Amy Adams) that while it’s been fun watching him elude the FBI and convince many he was a pilot, a doctor,  and a lawyer, but he’s still a boy who wants his family back together.

    Divorce is a common theme in Spielberg’s work. In an entirely fictional scene, Frank Jr visits his father and attempts to impress him with all his manufactured success. The real Frank Jr loved this addition because he often dreamed of making his father proud and finding a way of bringing his parents back together. It isn’t until he discovers his father has died and his mother has had a child with her new husband, that he allows himself to be caught.

    While Leonardo DiCaprio is clearly the star, the supporting cast really knocks it out of the park. Tom Hanks clearly had fun making this film, getting to use an exaggerated accent and disguise his famous face. The role reminds me of Hanks’ earlier work, when he played less heroic men. It’s interesting to watch as the relationship between Frank Jr and Hanratty evolves. While they start out as rivals, they slowly begin to care for each other because neither has anyone else in the world.

    Christopher Walken is great as Frank Sr, who obviously passed on his ability to bend the truth to his only son. While he plays himself up as a great businessman who has the perfect marriage for his son, it is quickly revealed that he has not been completely honest on his taxes which leads his wife to leave him for one of his friends.  Though he destroys his family, it’s hard to not feel sorry for the guy. He isn’t a malicious person, just a guy who wanted to be respected and maybe wasn’t so good at paying his taxes. Walken so frequently does ridiculous stuff, it’s nice to see him in a quality project.

    The film has a really fun tone to it. If you haven’t seen this mostly forgotten gem, I would encourage you to check it out.