Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Norman Mailer disliked most of Steven Spielberg’s movies. He felt they were sentimental, and he had a particular aversion to “E.T.” Nevertheless, in 1986 the year he was president of PEN, Norman wanted Spielberg to help raise funds for the writers’ group’s 64th Annual Congress in Manhattan -- but Norman didn't know Spielberg.
At this time, I was living in Hollywood and under Norman’s spell. Norman was aware that I had double-dated with Spielberg in the mid-‘70s, when I was dating Michael Phillips, a producer of “The Sting.” So he asked me to write Spielberg for a contribution to the gala, at which writers would read from their work.
Spielberg declined via his secretary.
When I saw his “Lincoln” this weekend, I recalled Norman’s comments about Spielberg’s work.
In the film, the Civil War is raging, but Lincoln has his own war within his cabinet to pass the 13th Amendment. Freeing the slaves was more important to him than ending the war. It’s a carefully studied and moving view of history. And laborious.
Still, Daniel Day-Lewis makes his portrayal of the president come alive. Memorable. He doesn’t have the pompous and pretentious accent or presence that the early trailer implied he might have. He wears Abe well. And chomping at the bit is that ol’ scene stealer Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, senator from Pennsylvania.
The cast is almost endless in wonderful supporting roles: Hal Holbrook , David Strathairn, James Spader, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Michael Stuhlbarg and not to be forgotten. Sally Field takes her moments and almost writes novels with her expressions -- though there were times I felt she was overacting and milking these moments.
No, the actors are not the problem. The problem is watching what is basically a history book when we know the ending. If there’s any surprise, it’s in the portraits and characters drawn by the talented actors, not the plot or story based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, “Team of Rivals.”
Some moments are crisp -- when the dialogue allows Abe to be witty and the garrulous storyteller he was. While Spielberg's direction of the actors is wow time, the story and darkness of the film cloud his efforts. After one rousing scene ends, there is too long a lull before the next rousing one takes up the slack. He is asleep at the wheel of the story.
Similarly Tony Kushner’s screenplay soars when the writer shows Lincoln as his cantankerous self. But much of the movie is viewed the way one would view a history book.
Little hardship is shown by the slaves. Perhaps more interaction of the slaves with Lincoln's folk would have tugged a few more limp heart strings. Aside from seeing Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens in bed with his housekeeper slave and giving her a pleasant peck on the cheek (I was waiting for E.T. to join them in an orgy), little awareness of the Negroes’ plight is shown on the screen.
If you catch yourself yawning while looking at “Lincoln” -- or for the exit -- you will not be alone.
Friday, November 16, 2012
My Blind Date With the Best James Bond of Them All
Published: November 16, 2012 @ 9:37 am
In the mid-‘70s I had a blind date with Sean Connery. A friend, producer Marty Bregman, called to ask me to meet him at Le Club, a distinguished dinner and dancing establishment. I just had flown back to New York from Paris, running from an engagement to Claude Picasso. Meeting 007 might be good for a devastated heart.
“Carole, can you be at Le Club about 8? Connie and I are having dinner with Sean Connery. I’d like you to meet him.” “Of course, Marty,” I said, suppressing my eagerness at the thought of meeting James Bond in the flesh. When I met him, I was not surprised by his sexuality. He lived up to his reputation as 007.
“Marty has told me a lot about you,” Sean said as he stood to shake my hand. He was taller than I had expected, while his voice sent ripples through my veins. Then he asked me to dance. No question, the most appealing quality to Sean was the timbre of his voice. Daniel Craig’s voice cannot compare.
Now we have another Bond film, but is it the best Bond ever, as some are saying? I think not. Yes, it is good and action-packed so that breathing can become a problem. But while Daniel Craig is a good Bond, it is Javier Bardem as Silva who owns this flick. With his broken nose and blonde wig, he oozes terror even when he smiles.
In the film, MI6, has come under attack by Silva and his people, and his target is the forever charming M, Judi Dench. Bond chases from Istanbul to Shanghai to Macao to London to Scotland eluding and trying to trap Silva who wants to kill M, his former employer. Craig is steady as they go, but I couldn't help wondering what Connery would have brought to the part. His ghost lingers.
The script by Neal Purvis, John Wade and John Logan provides great dialogue, and thanks to direction by Sam Mendes it moves along at a fast pace, though it was a tad long. A wet-behind-the-ears nerd, Ben Winshaw, has replaced the brilliant Q as the gadget master -- but for nostalgia buffs an original Aston Martin is along for the ride.
The Bond women do not disappoint. Berenice Marlohe as Severine is an exotic beauty whose fear of Silva is apparent when she trembles while smoking in her opening scene. But Bond seems to prefer Naomi Harris, who plays (spoiler alert!) Miss Moneypenny with deft aplomb. Eve is Bond's assistant, and in an opening sequence filmed in Istanbul she mistakenly shoots him. But we know he will survive. Harris has a spunky wit and twinkle in her eye that makes her a near perfect Lady Bond.
The opening credits disappoint as they are not creative as past Bond openings such as in “Goldfinger.” But the music is skillful and punctuates scenes at the right times -- and adds a touch of nostalgia from the old Bond films of yore. (article continued on The Wrap)