#310. Abraham Lincoln

When you think of iconic American Presidents, who comes to mind? George Washington? Thomas Jefferson? Teddy Roosevelt? I would almost wager that Abraham Lincoln is easily the most recognizable of the Presidents. While he did not help found the country like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did, he was the one President who helped to unite a country after it fell apart at the seams during his presidency. Consequently, and in part due to his assassination, Lincoln is revered as one of the best Presidents this country has ever had. It’s no wonder we have memorials for him across Washington D.C., his image emblazoned on our currency, and his face carved out of the side of a mountain. Of course, since Lincoln was almost bigger than life in reality, as a fictional character he carries nearly the same amount of clout. This week’s two films focus on different interpretations of Abraham Lincoln.

LincolnLincoln
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 150 minutes / 2.5 hours

Because the Civil War dominated Lincoln’s presidency, there are many sections of this American conflict that could be used as a backdrop for a biographical film. In part due to the vast amount of information collected about this war, it can be difficult to do the entirety of it any justice in the running time of a modern film. Many documentaries and miniseries have spent countless hours covering Lincoln and the Civil War, but if just one moment was to be the focus of a film about Lincoln, what would it be? Is it the Emancipation Proclamation? The Gettysburg Address? His first or second campaign for President? As is usually the case with many historical figures killed before their time, the events leading up to his death give a gripping and dramatic representation of a President who was tired of dealing with the Civil War.

Despite passing a war-time measure to free the slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) finds that what he has done in good conscience may be overturned once the war is over. Wanting to make the Proclamation permanent, he proposes the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which will be a final measure to abolish slavery in the United States. While it would be easier to ratify upon the meeting of the newly-elected Congress, the Civil War is likely to be finished by then, allowing the reacquired southern states to vote on the Amendment. Consequently, Lincoln wants to pass this Amendment quickly, but the rapidly upcoming peace negotiations with the Confederacy give many Congressmen pause; since it might be likely that a provision for peace would be to keep slavery in the South. With the Amendment finally up for a vote, Lincoln’s legacy lies in the hands of his Congress.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours

Even the best biographical films about Abraham Lincoln are bound to have their historical accuracy questioned somewhere along the line. Some of these films are made with entertainment in mind, as was the case with Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), which used Henry Fonda in the titular role to enact Lincoln’s “origin story.” But what if the lack of historical accuracy was not an issue? There are enough themes and motifs surrounding Lincoln’s persona that he could be used as a fictional character. Since he’s so ingrained in American history, films like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) can use the historical Lincoln as a fictional character. And yet, none of these films ever come quite as close to re-writing the former President’s history than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) does.

As a young boy, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) holds onto the pain of losing his mother by vowing to kill her supposed murderer, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Almost a decade later, he attempts to get his revenge; but is almost killed when he learns that Barts is a vampire. His salvation comes in the form of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who helps train Lincoln into a vampire hunter. Upon his successful completion of vampire hunter training, Lincoln finally manages to kill Barts, but not before he learns that Sturgess is also a vampire. At this point, Lincoln decides to quit his life as a vampire hunter and take up the mantle of politics to create the change he wants in the world. When the Civil War comes into full swing, Lincoln knows the Confederacy is using vampires to fight its battles. Sending all available silver to his Union troops, Lincoln decides to personally handle the head vampire himself.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 adaptations of Abraham Lincoln

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#309. Daniel Day-Lewis

Have you ever noticed that some actors seem to be in every critically-acclaimed movie? I’m not talking about the actors who win a lot of awards, but then also do some “low brow” comedies on the side. I’m referring to the actors who just seem to have a higher standard for the work they do. They usually aren’t the most prolific actors, but often they are the most awarded actors. It’s almost as if they have perfected the craft of acting and will only take on roles that they know will bring them the praise of critics and audiences alike. Daniel Day-Lewis certainly seems to fit into this category of actor. While he has appeared in more films in the early part of his career, lately his roles have been a little more spread out, but have earned him many accolades, regardless. This week’s two films highlight some of Daniel Day-Lewis’ most notable roles.

Gangs of New YorkGangs of New York
Year: 2002
Rating: R
Length: 167 minutes / 2.78 hours

Even though Daniel Day-Lewis has won multiple Oscars, there are still a few films where he was nominated for Best Actor and didn’t win the honor. It’s probably useful to note that these films were also nominated for Best Picture, but also lost to other movies. His first loss was to Tom Hanks in 1993 (for Hanks’ role in Philadelphia), despite a solid performance in In the Name of the Father (which itself lost to Schindler’s List). Fortunately, the only other time he didn’t win a nomination was in 2002 for his role in Gangs of New York (losing to Adrien Brody in The Pianist and the film losing to Chicago). Of course, Gangs of New York also garnered Martin Scorsese a nomination for Best Director. The only other time Day-Lewis and Scorsese worked together was for the period piece, The Age of Innocence (1993).

In Gangs of New York, Daniel Day-Lewis portrays William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting, a man whose violent tendencies crushed a rival gang of Irish immigrants led by a Catholic priest (Liam Neeson). Having no trouble cutting up animals or men, his intimidating persona managed to keep the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan in a state of fearful peace for sixteen years. In the midst of the Civil War, a man by the name of Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) arrives in New York and starts to stir up some trouble, becoming involved with William M. Tweed (Jim Broadbent), the boss of the newest rival gang to Bill’s “Natives.” As it turns out, Amsterdam has a connection to the previous gang war and it doesn’t take long for Bill to figure out who he was related to. Instead of running away to San Francisco, Amsterdam officially challenges Bill to a fight, which he accepts to his own peril.

LincolnLincoln
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 150 minutes / 2.5 hours

No other actor has won three Best Actor Oscars. Walter Brennan won three Best Supporting Actor statues, but everyone knows the highest honor comes with Best Actor. Daniel Day-Lewis has achieved this feat with only five nominations to his name. Even before he won his first Best Actor Oscar, he appeared in the Best Picture, Gandhi (1982). He would then go on to win his acting Oscars in the Best Picture nominees, My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012). Perhaps due to his first Oscar coming from My Left Foot, Day-Lewis collaborated with director Jim Sheridan twice more for In the Name of the Father (which earned him an aforementioned acting nomination) and The Boxer (1997). Still, it’s his performance in Lincoln that pushed his name into Hollywood history for having earned three Best Actor Oscars.

While the gang wars of New York were coming to a head in 1863, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) made a definitive move in turning the tide of the Civil War by passing the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately, now that he sees the end of the Civil War quickly approaching, he realizes that this wartime executive order might not stand up to legal scrutiny once the war is over. In order to keep the effects of the Proclamation permanent, he proposes the Thirteenth Amendment. This Amendment to the Constitution has a difficult road to ratification, considering the 16th President of the United States wants to have it approved before the end of the war so that the southern states re-joining the Union won’t be able to deny its passage and the freedoms it provides to slaves across the nation. It’s up to the men of Congress to ensure that Lincoln’s legacy remains intact, despite a sporty deadline quickly approaching.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 different Daniel Day-Lewis characters

Bacon #: 2 (Lincoln / Tommy Lee Jones -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#223. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

While this blog has covered the careers of many child actors, very few have started as young as Joseph Gordon-Levitt. What is interesting to note here is that his career took the somewhat traditional path to stardom, especially when one considers child actors. Starting at the age of four, from roles in a musical theater group to television commercials, Gordon-Levitt eventually made his way into regular television in the form of TV shows and made-for-TV movies. Soon, he was cast in main roles in films like Angels in the Outfield (1994). Almost ten years since he started his acting career, Joseph Gordon-Levitt hit it big with a lead role in the comedic sitcom, 3rd Rock from the Sun. Most people have known him from his role on this show, but after his brief stint studying acting in the early 2000’s he has come into mainstream film roles to critical acclaim. This week’s two films show the range of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting skills.

LooperLooper
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Since much of Gordon-Levitt’s early career was in the comedy genre, many were skeptical of his skills in more serious and action-based roles. While he did portray Cobra Commander in the 2009 film, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, much of his action film experience would come a year later in the Christopher Nolan masterpiece, Inception (2010). Now that he had his foot in the door, Nolan cast Gordon-Levitt in the finale of the Dark Knight saga, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), as a young policeman by the name of John Blake whose legal name is Robin. Of course, this wasn’t the only role that he filled in 2012. He also had a bit part in Lincoln, starred in the bicycling-themed Premium Rush, and had the lead role in the sci-fi adventure Looper. Since then, other big name directors have cast him in serious films like Snowden (2015) by Oliver Stone and The Walk (2015) by Robert Zemeckis.

Thirty years before the invention of time travel, a group of hitmen known as “loopers” are used to kill targets who were sent to them from the future. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is just one of them, hoarding half of the silver bars he receives as payment. When he kills a target who has gold bars, he knows that his loop has been “closed”, and that he has just killed his future self. With this big payout, he moves to China, indulging in the drugs and parties to which he has become accustomed. Eventually, he finds himself back in the killing game, working as a hitman again. When his loop is set to be closed, his wife is killed in the process, leading him to be sent back in time unbound and unmasked. This creates an alternate timeline where the original Joe (Bruce Willis) is on a mission to kill the gang boss who wanted him dead thirty years in the future. Meanwhile, young Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is the only one who can stop him.

(500) Days of Summer(500) Days of Summer
Year: 2009
Rating: PG-13
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

As I mentioned before, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is no stranger to comedies. And while his early career was in more of a sitcom and family-friendly vein, his later work deals with relationships in a more serious context. One of his last films before going off to college was that of the Shakespearean modern interpretation that is 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). Afterwards, there were other comedies that touched on a variety of serious subjects, such as 50/50 (2011) wherein Gordon-Levitt portrays a very young cancer patient, just trying to feel normal and loved. There was also Don Jon (2013), his directorial debut, which addressed the very serious problem of pornography in modern society. Of course, perhaps his best romantic comedy was that of (500) Days of Summer, not only for its fun tone, but the reality that not every relationship works out in the end.

While the season of summer only lasts just over 90 days, the time that Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spent connected with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) numbered 500 days. Tom met Summer through his job at a greeting card company where he writes the interiors to a variety of cards. Summer was the assistant to Tom’s boss, and the two eventually start dating. The film moves back and forth between the 500 days, showing that there were definite highs, where Tom was at his creative best at work, as well as devastating lows which led to him quitting his job. About 2/3 of the way through the 500 days, the two break up, and Tom eventually has to come to terms that she has moved on, as she eventually invites him to her engagement party. Finally pursuing his dream of using his architectural training, Tom has reached the end of the 500 days just as he meets a nice young woman named “Autumn”.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 gems from Gordon-Levitt

Bacon #: 2 (The Juror / Alec Baldwin -> She’s Having a Baby / Kevin Bacon)

#080. Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg is perhaps the most prolific director of our time. In the last 45 years, he has directed over thirty films and produced and written many more. As such, it is difficult to pick out two films that could represent the whole of his work. However, the simple fact is that Spielberg directs in two distinct categories: war and science fiction. Films like Saving Private Ryan, War Horse, and Lincoln have shown his talents in capturing the brutality of the battlefield, as well as the efforts of those to save as many people as they can. And yet, he also excels in the representation of aliens on screen, including E.T: The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and War of the Worlds. Even though it is simple to try and put Spielberg inside genre boxes, he has done numerous other successful movies as well, including the Indiana Jones series and Jurassic Park. This week’s two films highlight some representative works of a vast and varied career.

Schindler’s ListSchindler's List
Year: 1993
Rating: R
Length: 195 minutes / 3.25 hours

It is somewhat obvious by his name, but Steven Speilberg was born to Jewish parents in 1946. Never backing away from his heritage, he has directed a few films that examine tragic events against the Jews. In 2005, he released a film about the murder of Jewish athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, which highlighted the antisemitic sentiments still prevalent in Germany decades after the end of World War II. Of course, before this film, he directed Schindler’s List, an examination of the exemplary efforts of an Austrian industrialist to save countless Jewish lives during the Nazi-run Holocaust. The film is a fitting memorial for the tragedy that befell the Jewish people and should be used to remind us where we have been as a global community, and “lest we forget . . .”

As a shrewd businessman, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) didn’t give much thought about his workforce. However, when he finds out that the Polish Jews that are working in his factories are being persecuted by the Nazis, he decides to do something about it. He figures that the Nazis won’t look into the manufacturing plants that are giving them the supplies to continue their war, so he starts hiring Jews to work in his factories in order to protect them. As an added bonus, his factories are in fact producing some of these supplies needed by the Germans, so in order to quicken their demise, he allows the quality control of these goods to temporarily go by the wayside. And yet, rich as he is, he can’t save everyone. By the end of the war, Schindler had saved over one thousand Jews from the concentration camps at Auschwitz, but he wished he could have saved more.

JawsJaws
Year: 1975
Rating: PG-13
Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours

Up until 1975, Steven Spielberg was essentially an unknown name in Hollywood. That was until he made Jaws. Based on a book of the same name, it has been said that the film didn’t go quite as planned (due to some mechanical problems with the shark), but the longer the antagonist goes unseen, the more terrifying it became. Spielberg made a name for himself with this film, and he’s been creating thrillers like this ever since (like Jurassic Park, for instance). His presentation has been unique and has been the influence on many directors since. There is so much that is iconic about this film: the music, the quotes (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”), and (of course) the shark itself. The American Film Institute has placed Jaws mid-way through their top 100 lists in recognition of its influence on American cinema.

What’s the best way to beat the heat in the summer? Go swimming, of course. And if you live in the New England area, the best spot for swimming is the Atlantic Ocean. However, the chewed up remains of a swimmer wash ashore on a small island and soon every fisherman is out trying to bag the shark that did it. Unfortunately, only one fisherman understands what kind of beast they’re dealing with, and he’s the only one equipped to capture this shark. As the body-count rises, it becomes imperative that the monster is brought to justice. As such, the fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw), Marine Biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) go out to sea in attempt to find this shark before it kills again. And yet, are they truly prepared for what they will eventually find out there?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Spielberg sensations

Bacon #: 2 (Minority Report (directed) / Tom Cruise -> A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)