Friday, January 18, 2013

Dead Presidents

The election is over thank God, but fascination with the presidency goes on. The “big three”: Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, are back with a vengeance on the big and little screens.
First:  George Washington. The latest edition of Assassin’s Creed takes place during the American Revolution and GW is a major character. Unfortunatly, I suck at video games so I haven’t actually perused it
Next: is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Filmmakers have been trying to portray the Great Emancipator since at least Birth of a Nation a century ago, and with the possible exception of Raymond Massy most have failed. I guess the reason is that he’s too iconic. There’s something about being a national hero, THE national hero that makes a portrayal as a regular human.  Spielberg doesn’t do a full biography, but just concentrates on one incident, the passing of the 13th amendment to the Constitution, the first in over half a century.
The film is for the most part a celebration of the art of lobbying. Secretary of State Seward(David Strathairn), hires three  unsavory lobbyists(James Spader et al)  to bribe Democrats (who were the bad guys in those days) by offering retiring  and defeated congressmen patronage jobs.
 While Daniel Day Lewis is utterly brilliant as Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones steals the show playing Thaddeus Stevens, the Pennsylvania Congressman who led the antislavery movement well before there even was a Republican party. He channels Don Rickels and is a hoot. This is one of his best performances ever, and the whole thing is reminiscent of “The West Wing” in 19th century drag.
Finally, there’s Hyde Park on the Hudson, which has been going ‘round the film festival circuit and opens soon. If this doesn’t get Bill Murray an Oscar®, he’ll never get one. The film’s got everything a Masterpiece Theater fan or political junkie would want.  After all, there’s nothing the British are better at than a good costume drama, and the visit of King George VI(Samuel West) and his queen(Olivia Colman) to the US in 1939 is the perfect vehicle for expanding the American market.
With the Great Depression finally ending and World War II looming on the horizon, someone in the administration had decided that President Roosevelt(Murray) needed a playmate, and found one in his sixth cousin Daisy Suckley(Laura Linney), who is taking care of a very aged aunt. 
The film has a feel of Downton Abbey meets the West Wing to it, as Daisy and FDR fall in like with each other and what happens when she discovers he’s shagging his secretary Missy Lehand(Elizabeth Marvel), while their majesties are making a royal visit to deliver Neville Chamberlin’s request for help now that he realized he’d made a huge mistake trying to buy Hitler off.
It’s a fun film. All in all it’s really nice to see history done right for a change. I remember how Spielberg really botched Martin Van Buren in Amistad, a decade ago, and more recently, Oliver Stone’s horrible history series on Showtime            , but with the election over, and politics thankfully on the back burner for a year and a half, I don’t think we will see anything like these films for quite a while.            

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