By Brian D. Johnson - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - 0 Comments
Hollywood’s myth-making machine never lets facts get in the way of a good story
It’s enough to make you wonder if Oscar is more history buff than film buff. Of the last decade’s 20 Best Actor and Actress winners, all but five starred in period films, and the majority played historical figures. They constitute a virtual Madame Tussauds, an Academy house of wax that includes Ray Charles, Harvey Milk, June Carter, Truman Capote, Queen Elizabeth II, King George VI, Idi Amin, Edith Piaf and Margaret Thatcher—and, in the chamber of horrors, serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
This year, Oscar’s love for “true” stories about momentous events remains undiminished. Leading the charge with a dozen nominations is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis appearing to have a bony-knuckled lock on Best Actor for his shrewd portrayal of America’s most iconic president. Lincoln’s rivals includes Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, both thrillers based on real-life tales of CIA crusaders fighting Islamic terror. And competing with Zero Dark Thirty’s Jessica Chastain for Best Actress is a pair of contenders who fight historic forces even more cataclysmic than al-Qaeda: Naomi Watts, as a tenacious mother swept away by the 2004 tsunami in The Impossible, and Quvenzhané Wallis as a fictional kid braving the Louisiana floodwaters of hurricane Katrina in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
But the Academy seems more in love with the idea of history than the real thing—and with movies that turn fact into fable. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The problem is the makers of Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo keep insisting their films are faithful accounts, despite glaring evidence to the contrary. The result is one of the most politically charged Oscar campaigns in recent memory. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 2:13 PM - 0 Comments
With today’s announcement of the Oscar nominees, it came as no surprise that Steven Spielberg is back in the Academy’s good graces. Lincoln leads the pack with a landslide of 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Director and three acting nods. (Expect Spielberg’s smart, dignified epic to sweep many categories—and at least Best Picture, Best Actor for Daniel-Day Lewis and Best Adapted Screenplay for Tony Kushner.) But it was more surprising, and heartening, to see Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, based on the novel by Canadian Yann Martel, so amply rewarded with 11 nominations, including Original Score and Original Song for Canadian composer Michael Danna. Life of Pi is, in a sense, this year’s Hugo, a conjuring of old-fashioned movie magic through the lens of the latest 3D visual technology.
Somehow, however, the Academy failed to recognize the remarkable performance by Life of Pi‘s novice lead, Suraj Sharma, who carried the entire film. Yet it did anoint another novice, nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, making her the youngest Best Actress nominee in history for her bravura performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. This year’s designated Little Movie That Could, it received four nominations, including Best Director for Benh Zeitlin, a New Yorker making his feature-film debut with a magic realist fable set in the Louisiana flood-waters of Hurricane Katrina.
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:58 AM - 0 Comments
Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ leads with 12 nominations
Nomination for the 85th Academy Awards were announced early this morning by actress Emma Stone and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, who will also serve as Oscar host on Feb. 24.
By Preston Manning - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 11:33 AM - 0 Comments
Preston Manning on the new Spielberg film, ‘Lincoln’—and what Obama could learn from it
Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s new film, tells the story of a dramatic period in the life of Abraham Lincoln near the end of the American Civil War. It is the period between Lincoln’s re-election to a second term as president of the United States on Nov. 8, 1864, and the passage, several months later, of the constitutional amendment that permanently abolished slavery throughout the U.S.
President Barack Obama has been re-elected to his second term at a time when America is again seriously divided racially and politically—racked by what CNN commentator John King described on election night as “an ideological civil war.” This conflict currently prevents a divided U.S. government from averting the fiscal crisis that threatens to plunge the American economy into recession.
So what were the principles and tactics employed by Lincoln to bring together a Congress divided over abolition? And how might they apply to bringing together a U.S. government divided over the fiscal issue and hasten the end of America’s ideological civil war? Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 10:19 AM - 0 Comments
This year of presidential gunslinging has produced three films about freeing American slaves: Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer and Django Unchained. What if they were all the same movie? My mash-up trailer:
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 10:53 AM - 0 Comments
Our literary editrix sent me the oddest book to review, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it; I decided not to review it for our print books section, where space is tight, but I thought I’d put on record that I did read Stephen L. Carter’s The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln from front to back.
A lot of respectable pulp-class writers, from Harry Turtledove to whomever ghosts the books sold under Newt Gingrich’s byline, earn good coin from the art of alternate-universe U.S. history. (I think Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle is the major inspiration for this genre, but feel free to apply the rod of correction in the comments.) Lincoln being the perennial topic he is, one imagines that Carter’s basic premise—a world in Lincoln survives the wound he receives at Ford’s Theatre—has probably been done a dozen times before. But one expects Carter’s book to be more serious than the general run of this stuff, because he’s a moderately important public intellectual, not to mention the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale. (This is one of the few jobs in the United States whose title practically demands a tympani roll and a trumpet fanfare.)
The book, however, is just plain weird—an action movie, a courtroom drama, and an interracial romance thrown into a big blender. The portrait of an impeachment proceeding turns out to be quite interesting and informative, because even though we have recent experience of a president’s trial in the Senate… well, to be perfectly honest, what I remember most from the trial of President Clinton is Chief Justice Rehnquist’s wacky robe with the striped sleeves. The proceeding itself was a bit perfunctory: by the time the trial commenced the ending was foreordained, the public was exhausted, and neither theoretically-possible outcome was likely to please anyone much. Moreover, the trial was carried out in an odd, slightly confusing order, and no live witnesses were examined in the well of the Senate chamber. As theatre, it was a bust.
Carter’s fictional trial shows us what a real, proper, open-ended presidential impeachment proceeding would look like—yet it, too, fails as theatre. You know how courtroom movies like A Few Good Men always end up letting star witnesses testify uninterrupted and fight exciting verbal duels with cross-examining counsel in ways that would never be tolerated in real life? Just to refresh your memory: the lawyer for the baddie will usually explode to his feet once and demand that the good guy’s Hail-Mary line of questioning be shut down, but the judge, who has been crushing the hero’s huevos throughout the movie, suffers a mysterious and unexplained attack of leniency and says “I’ll allow it—but this had better be going somewhere fast, mister!”
Carter is too much the law professor to let a “real” courtroom drama like that develop: his portrait of an obstructionist, cranky 19th-century Senate is so accurate that the witnesses are barely allowed to breathe, and Lincoln’s impeachment trial turns out to be kind of boring. (And, by the way, the actual impeachment of Lincoln by the House technically happens off-camera in a short passage on page 34, so the title’s a little misleading, too.)
There are other credibility problems with the plot to balance the too-much-credibility issue with the courtroom scenes, but my big problem with this book is that its portrait of Lincoln is unrecognizable and unattractive. I can’t help thinking that this is a decisive, unmitigable flaw in a Lincoln book. Carter seems to have thought it was important that Lincoln not be portrayed as a plaster saint, so he overemphasizes the cynicism, the backwoods cunning, and the borderline-megalomaniac sense of sacred mission that contemporary detractors saw in Lincoln. This is certainly fair. What we don’t get is any sense of Lincoln’s mind, which was one of the finest of its era.
Certainly we get no taste of his gift for English, which only a trivial handful of individuals have shared in equal measure since our alphabet included the yogh. I think literally every single bit of Lincoln dialogue we get in the book is prefaced by one of Lincoln’s countrified stories about travelling salesmen with ferrets in their trousers or what-have-you. The anecdotes all supposedly authentic, but they are laid on much too thick. In real life, when the President deployed these stories, they were charming and inevitably to the point. By contrast, Carter’s Lincoln seems cryptic and distracted, even a mite demented. Maybe it’s the head wound?
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Recovering car companies are turning to big-name actors to voice their latest ad campaigns
Want more proof that the U.S. auto industry is starting to recover? There are more celebrities than ever lending their voices to car commercials. Jon Hamm, the star of Mad Men, recently lent his perfect advertising-man voice to a commercial for a Mercedes-Benz hybrid vehicle, which he assured us would lead to a “cleaner, safer future.” Not to be outdone, Ford hired Hamm’s Mad Men supporting player, silver-haired John Slattery, to do a commercial for its Lincoln line of cars. Last month, General Motors announced that Tim Allen will be “the new voice of Chevrolet,” while Jeff Bridges continues to do voice-overs for Hyundai, though an arcane Academy rule forced them to pull his voice from a commercial the night he won an Oscar.
Which stars are picked for which cars? That depends on whom the company is trying to reach. Mad Men, which has a small viewership but an older and more affluent one, is perfect for selling expensive luxury vehicles. Ford marketing director Matt VanDyke told the New York Times that his company picked Slattery because he “represents the potential customer” they’re seeking—men in their 40s and 50s with a lot of money to spend. Chevrolet’s Cruze, a compact car, needs a star with broader appeal: Allen, whose voice is recognizable all over the English-speaking world thanks to Toy Story, is the perfect choice to tell us that we should spend what little money we have on a car.
What we’re not seeing much of, yet, are commercials where the actors appear in the flesh, like Ricardo Montalban selling “Corinthian leather.” Slattery is the only one of these celebrities who does his selling on-camera, wearing glasses and looking pensively at us while he drives. This may be not in spite of the fact that he’s less of a star than Hamm, Allen or Bridges, but because of it: car companies worry that people, as opposed to voices, may be too associated with their characters, whereas with Slattery, VanDyke said, “Whether you know him from Mad Men or not, it doesn’t really matter.”
By John Parisella - Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 1:48 PM - 7 Comments
The most significant transformation the Republican party has undergone has been its shift from…
The most significant transformation the Republican party has undergone has been its shift from a broad-based, moderate conservative party to an exclusive, narrow-based, populist political organization. This new GOP has been able to win five of seven presidential elections between 1980 and 2004 and control both Houses of Congress from 1994 to 2006. Leaders like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were able to put a more inclusive face on their party—though it was sometimes betrayed by their policies—while George W. Bush relied on a sales-pitch of compassionate conservatism to attract independent voters. By 2008, however, the sham was up. America was changing, but the GOP had not kept pace. Conservatives like David Frum now see a bleak future for the GOP unless it changes and learns from its defeats in 2006 and 2008. This is why the selection of a new Chairman of the RNC was so noteworthy. Choosing former Maryland Lt.Governor Michael Steele, an African-American, indicates that the GOP may be ready to change course.