By turns rollicking, wonkish and not entirely lacking Steven Spielberg’s familiar dose of awe-struck sugar, “Lincoln” is a mash note to brass-knuckle American politics.
Could the timing have been any better? The author of the screenplay is Tony Kushner, whose villainous Roy Cohn remarked, in “Angels in America,” that politics is blood-red meat, “gastric juices churning.” To which Daniel Day-Lewis’s commanding 16th president might respond: “No kidding.”
Delighting in rowdy name-calling debates (“You are more reptile than man!”) and backroom deal-making, “Lincoln” chronicles his last-ditch scramble to secure the anti-slavery Thirteenth Amendment as the Civil War winds down.
The war’s end -- Southern diplomats are on their way to the White House -- would shrivel Northern support for the amendment. Even Lincoln allies like Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) view the proposal chiefly as a tactical strike against the Confederates.
Based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” “Lincoln” brims with big characters expertly played, from Strathairn’s pragmatic Seward to Tommy Lee Jones, bewigged and bellowing, as the wildly impolitic abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.
The home front is equally vivid, with Sally Field’s aching turn as the despairing Mary Todd Lincoln (history, she predicts, will remember only her madness) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the eldest son, determined to enlist.
Minor characters, crucial to the story, are memorably sketched and Kushner’s dense lyricism goes a long way to offset the director’s saccharine tendencies.
A tall order, to be sure. This is, after all, a big-time, award-baiting Spielberg production, with lighting that occasionally bathes Lincoln in a saintly glow and washes the era in John Williams’s overwrought score.
“Lincoln” is better served by another longtime Spielberg collaborator, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. The battlefield combat that opens the film is as graphic and intense as anything in “Saving Private Ryan,” and makes clear what’s really at stake in those noisy halls of democracy.
“Lincoln,” from DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox, is playing in select theaters, and goes into wide release November 16. Rating: **** (Evans)
With just a little tug of his shirt cuff, Daniel Craig unseats Sean Connery as cinema’s best James Bond.
The moment comes early in Sam Mendes’s terrific, game- changing “Skyfall.”
Craig’s sexy, careworn 007 has just survived a thrillingly choreographed chase -- motorcycles, trains, tractors -- when he pauses just long enough to assure the proper bit of white peeking from his suit coat sleeve.
Bond, still stylish after 50 years.
“Skyfall,” written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, is the 23rd film based on Ian Fleming’s MI6 operative. And it’s one of the best.
Resurrection is the theme here, established early on when Bond, presumed dead after a split-second decision by agency chief M (Judi Dench, wonderfully steely) goes sour.
Even after a respite “enjoying death,” Bond is bone- weary, a Cold War relic questioning his place in a young man’s game.
“You were expecting an exploding pen?” says the gadget- making tech geek Q (Ben Whishaw) to Bond. “We don’t really go in for that anymore.”
Other traditions survive, most happily in the world- threatening presence of a deliciously evil villain.
This time around it’s dyed-blond Javier Bardem’s computer- hacking Raoul Silva, M’s former protege driven mad by years of foreign imprisonment.
If Silva falls short of Goldfinger status -- the character’s mommy-hating motivations seem thin -- Bardem certainly captures Mendes’s embrace of new and old.
Flirting with a tied-up Bond, Bardem’s Silva teases his lady-killing nemesis that “there’s a first time for everything.”
“What makes you think,” responds Bond, ever full of surprises, “that this is my first time?”
“Skyfall,” from Columbia Pictures and Metro Goldwyn Mayer, is playing across the country. Rating: **** (Evans)
Jaggedly edited, with a jangly soundtrack to match, “Cafe de Flore” offers two gentle tales with horror-movie trappings, as though something unspeakable awaits these nice people.
The writer and director, Jean-Marc Vallee (“The Young Victoria”) places the contemporary part in his native Montreal. A successful DJ (Kevin Parent) has regretfully left a woman he adores (Helene Florent) for one he loves even more deeply (Evelyne Brochu).
Ex-wife and wife-to-be refuse to hate each other. They’re distraught; he’s confused.
In the other story, set in 1960s Paris, a working-class mother (Vanessa Paradis) devotes herself to her seven-year-old son (Marin Gerrier), who has Down syndrome, with a fierceness that threatens to cross the line into something less benign.
It takes a while to get these two narratives fixed in your head. Though they aren’t complicated, the shock cuts and the pumped-up music (the title refers to a pop song, not the Left Bank hangout) keep throwing you; so does the lack of any apparent connection between them.
As they both turn darker, elements of Gothic horror begin to shade the edges of the frame. The mixture of foreboding and flashy editing hints at the influence of Nicolas Roeg’s occult 1973 tragedy “Don’t Look Now” -- another sign that something you would rather not see may be approaching.
In the end, though the combination of love-is-the-answer and doom-is-nigh feels startlingly weird, it isn’t resolved, or at least not satisfyingly. The movie seems to be taking you someplace very strange -- until all at once you recognize the scenery.
“Cafe de Flore,” from Adopt Films, is playing in New York, Los Angeles and Coral Gables, Florida. Rating: *** (Seligman)
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(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York weekend.
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