Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Thoughts on the movie Licoln. These are just my thoughts and opinions based on my readings. I am not a Civil War scholar.

America, by 1860, had emerged as two distinct Americas with two distinct economies. Fraternal twins in an increasingly dysfunctional family. The north was The New World: industrial age in urban areas, new ways of thought, looking forward, growth of technology and a better distribution of education.

The South was the Traditional World: agrarian, traditional thought, looking inward and poor distribution of education.

Abraham Lincoln was born a mere twenty years after the Constitution was ratified. He was an American when that was still something new and palpable. We don’t understand that now. America was young and wild and fresh. Looking west from Illinois he could imagine that wild frontier teeming with wolves and bison; Indians, bears and mountain lions. Looking back east, bustling cities and commerce; to the south he saw the old way where time stood still. He loved THAT country. He also loved his fellow man including those of African descent. But he understood slavery, its place in history and in the Constitution, and though he didn’t harbor love for the institution, he was not antithetical to the slave holder. In fact he was sympathetic. He felt that in their position he would act the same and make the same choices. That they were the products of their culture just as the northerner was of his.

Abraham Lincoln was not an abolitionist. Abolitionism, though it did have southern adherents, was mostly a product of the north, and its popularity had gained tremendous impetus by the middle 19th century.

And then the new Republican Party was born which had anti-slavery built into its DNA.

The south believed in states’ rights, felt threatened by the federal government and sought to protect the only way of life it had known.

And then Lincoln left the crumbling Whig party and joined the Republicans.

And then Lincoln was elected president with only support from the north.

And then the south seceded.

And then the south fired the first shot.

The war dragged on. The specter of mountains of dead sons, grieving mothers and a divided America weighed heavily. He probably didn’t sleep much during these years.

This emotional exhaustion pushed him in the direction of the abolitionist. Slowly, at first. For to strip the south of its laborer would collapse its economy and hasten its capitulation. (If he were truly an abolitionist, wouldn’t he have pushed for abolition on the day he took office?) Toward that end, he first issued his Emancipation Proclamation. It was an act of war, plain and simple, but it did not have the force of law. It was only a declaration. Not driven by altruism, its real motive was to rob the farmer of his ability to earn. It only affected certain states. Real abolitionists were outraged. In response to one editorial in the respected New York Tribune, Lincoln replied the following, which is ultimately telling of both this man’s intellect and true feelings on slavery/abolition/unification. We must take him at his word:

“If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. . . . I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

The Proclamation had limited effect and bodies continued to mount. Only the liberation, by law, of slaves would bring the south to its knees. Abraham came to it slowly, but when he finally did, he became the 13 amendment’s most forceful proponent and threw the entire weight of his power and intellect into its passage. The amendment passed in January, the south surrendered in April.

The movie cuts in at the point where Abraham is the 13th amendment’s strong advocate. By doing that, the uneducated viewer is led to believe that Abraham Lincoln was born to free the slaves.

He was not. He was a man of and for his times. Maturing just as the fraternal twin Americas came to blows.

He was not born to write the cynical Emancipation Proclamation.

He was born to write the Gettysburg Address.

He was born to reunify his nation. The slavery issue was a means to that end.

The movie was good, if a bit self-important.  While Day-Lewis did a magnificent job at becoming--chanelling, Lincoln, every act, every line by every actor was performed as though it would be etched in stone for the ages. The movie was imbued with grandiosity. I found that tedious. Also, Lincoln's trampling of the Constitution, use of the executive order and abrogation of American's freedoms under the auspices of war receives tacit approval from writer and director of this movie. One can't help notice a whiff of corollary with current events.

The movie deified Lincoln. Lincoln was not a god then, nor is he one now.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The King's Speech

Starring: Colin Firth, Goeffry Rush, Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter.

Here’s what you know: the prince stammers and, somewhere in this movie a king makes a speech. Probably an important speech. An Ituri Forest pygmy could connect those dots: the stammerer will be King and make that kingly speech. But how? Prince Albert’s opening speech gives little hope. It’s more painful than a pocket full of scorpions. Yet a prince must speak. Albert is relegated to speeches at furniture store grand openings, 4-H competitions, bar-b-ques, and swap meets. Meanwhile the Realm is quietly scoured for any person among the Crown’s subjects who might help the Prince with his dreadful impediment.

Albert’s ailment doesn’t require the intervention of a subject. It demands the care of an equal; a friend perhaps. The problem is the prince has no equal. Nor does he have any friends. Because of his painful affliction, he hides behind the strict protocol of royalty to protect himself. That doesn’t stop his devoted princess from trying. Finally, with all options exhausted, she descends in a claustrophobic lift to the colorless world of the commoner. To the door comes a cheeky Australian man who agrees to take the patient on one condition: he sets the conditions. He meets with the prince and establishes the ground rules. Namely, they will be equals during treatment times. And they will speak on a first name basis, no ifs, ands or royal highnesses. For it is through his crazy cocktail of unorthodox methods that Lionel acquires the key.

Access to the inner chambers of the mind, buried, as these things always are, in the recesses of a long-forgotten childhood, requires the key. Only the person holding the key can unlock that subconscious cave, chase out all the frightening bats, clear the cobwebs and install light. It is the same for us all, prince and pauper alike. The key is trust. We only allow those whom we trust to see behind the mask of our conscious mind and personality. But the prince doesn’t surrender the mask easily.

While they continue to meet secretly, a dizzying sequence of events unfolds. Miss Wallace Simpson bursts on the scene to accelerate the action and eventually clear up the matter of succession. While Prince Edward wallows in Wally, Neville Chamberlain is off to pawn the porch, park and playground to procure peace. Black clouds of war gather over Europe.

Events steam to their inevitable conclusion. The king dies, Albert’s brother ascends to the throne, then abdicates to marry the divorcee, Wally Simpson. On the eve of the worst war the world has ever known, Albert ascends to the throne. Almost immediately the king must address the nation of England and the world beyond. England was at war. He must send fathers, husbands and sons off to war from which many would never return. It was a somber time, and it was one of the most important speeches of that era. At stake was the confidence of his people. With the whole world listening the stammering king steps to the microphone. At his side his friend cheers, mimes and lampoons. Does it work? You'll have to watch the movie to find that out.

They say truth is stranger than fiction and here again that maxim proves true. Like everyone, I knew of the Wally Simpson affair, but I never knew of the affliction King George VI suffered and the unlikely solution and friendship that ensued. All aspects of the movie are sound, if a bit formulaic.

Lush, rich cinematography captures the fog and circumstance of England and its Royalty as the sun set on its empire. Colin Firth brings the right balance of propriety, insecurity, pathos and regal fire to his role as stammering, reluctant prince who has the crown shoved upon him at the kingdom's most dire moment. Geoffry Rush's character, Lionel Logue, revolves in retrograde to the King's. This rakish rogue, failed actor, Australian speech therapist is id to the king's ego. The chemistry between the two actors works nicely. Helena Bonham Carter and Jennifer Ehle, the respective spouses each turn in fine supporting performances as well. Firth will clutch the little gold statuette Sunday, February 27.

4.5 stars

Friday, February 4, 2011

Social Network

Here's a bright Jewish kid's got a chip on his shoulder the size of Manhattan and all the charm of a Gaboon Viper during drought season. Zuck writes wicked computer code. He's got no worries with his computer connection, but the human connection's a bit problematic. Maybe it's because he's so brilliant. Enter the uber-waspy, clubby Winklevoss brothers. These guys make Ken of Barbie fame look like Dalton the Dumpster Diver. They invite Zuck over to their clubby club, but only allow him to the outer chamber, not the inner Anglo sanctum. Zuck feels slighted. They want to contract Zuck for his code writing skills and pitch their idea for an internet based social media site to serve Harvard students. They nosh on hoagies in the antechamber, but the experience leaves a bad taste in Zuck's mouth. The brothers, however, provide the missing piece to Zuck's puzzle. The idea clicks in Zuck's head as he enters into business agreement with the brothers then leaves. "I'll call you tomorrow," Zuck said. The rest is facebook history.

Tomorrow never came. The next time Zuck and the Winklevoss' spoke was over coffee and depositions. As his internet star rises, Zuck sinks into a bog of litigation. The irony is Zuck connects the whole world and loses every friend in the process. Kinda depressing. Poor little billionaire.

Is this a good movie? Yeah. Great? Nope. Straight narrative holding fairly close to the real-life script and offering no transformation nor redemption.

And the Oscar goes to...

The King's Speech

Luke Saucier 2/04/2011

True Grit

‘Aha!’ I thought as I walked. You ever have one of those, “duh” moments where the light comes on and you ‘get it’ just after every one else has gotten it, and gone home? I had one of those moments as I walked back to my car from the theater the other night after watching “True Grit.”

"Jeff Bridges should get an Oscar," I’d heard proclaimed. I considered this as the opening credits rolled and I finished my large popcorn and the last Junior Mint. This should be good, I thought. It had probably been 40 years since I'd seen the original, so I had to refresh my memory of the plot: young girl, Mattie Ross, employs notorious lawman, Rooster Cogburn to capture her father’s murderer because she'd heard he had Grit. As the lights dimmed and the movie got under way, I watched for grit. So did Mattie Ross. She watched with an unflinching eye. We both waited and watched. Bridges was in fine form as Rooster Cogburn, an incorrigible drunken lawman, but therein lay the problem: Cogburn was drunk and incorrigible. Where was the gumption? The stuff for which this movie was named? The stiff upper lip? I looked for any sign in Rooster of the ‘True.’ But he stumbled, then stumbled again, and then fell, whisky-drunk. Finally when the going got tough, and the trail turned cold, he gave up, but Mattie wouldn’t let him quit. No siree, Bob. She wasn’t about to give up. I was disappointed. There wasn’t enough shoot ‘em up, and I didn’t see any sign of legendary determination. Just a drunken quitter.

That’s because I looked in the wrong place. I had my ‘aha,’ palm-to-forehead moment as I walked back to the car. The Grit and Gumption was there the whole time. I’d stared at it for two hours, but didn't realize it.

The True Grit for which this story is named is in the petit form of Mattie played to perfection by 14 year old Hailee Steinfeld. This is Mattie’s story, and it’s good. She is fearless and tireless in her quest to see her father's murderer brought to justice. Tough as nails in business dealings, or on the trail of the killers. Mattie is True Grit, not Cogburn. He’s along for the ride to do the heavy lifting. Those of you who saw the movie probably got it right away, but I was slow on the draw this time, pard. The movie became so much better for me when I finally had that Aha!

And the Oscar goes to...

Hailee Steinfeld

Luke Saucier 1/17/2011

The Expendables

Here's a movie tip for you: the Expendables--see this movie only if you relish the thought of red-hot ice picks slowly penetrating your retinal tissue while simultaneously having your medula oblangata crudely severed from your brain stem. This thing was the most awful piece of drek I've ever seen. And I'm keeping it nice, cause this is a family show.

There are more over the hill, has-been heavyweights here than in the palsy ward for retired boxers at the Mayo Clinic. As this bloated carcass plodded on, my wife complained of the gratuitous body count and carnage. "Hell, sweetheart, body count's not the problem," I said. "The Die Hard franchise left more bodies and carnage than a Hatian earthquake, yet it was watchable." The problem as I see it is first, Stallone and Rourke should sue their plastic surgeons-- pronto. These guys make Joan Rivers look like a an innocent, apple-cheeked farm girl of sixteen. Stallone's visage is pained with a sour look that screams acid reflux, and his expressions throughout the movie resemble more a petulant high school girl than a bad-ass dude. The movie relied more on star power than story power. Hokey, trite, stupid don't even begin to describe this piece of pasture patties. I want my money back!

Avoid this one like a rabid dog!

Luke Saucier 12/13/2010

The American

Talk about watching the paint dry. If tortoises had moved this slowly way back when, Aesop would have been in the unemployment line down at the acropolis. This honker bills itself as a suspense/action. There’s about as much suspense here as there is in those refrigerated drawers down at the morgue: It’s a corpse. We know how it got here and we know who done it. Let’s go to the house. Suspense? What suspense? Even if you have no functioning mental apparatus, your big toe could figure this thing out in the first three minutes, and this bugger is to action what an ice-age glacier is to a babbling brook on a fine summer day.

Very Euro in its look and feel. Great shots of big Italian valleys and little hamlets, but awkward use of garish yellow, green and red screens for that edgy European look. Trite dialogue and a poor story. Let me just say that if I’d presented a story this lame, with its pilfered Pygmalion premise, and shot more full of holes than Billy the Kid’s practice tin can, to my writer’s critique group for honest consideration, I’d need therapy for at least a decade after they got through with me, and I’d be forced out of the group for lack of originality.

A real yawner. Avoid this one like a pile on the path.

Luke Saucier 12/29/2010