3 1/2 stars = Very good
Steven Spielberg has done right by the Great Emancipator in this film starring Best Actor winner Daniel-Day Lewis. It is 2 1/2-plus talky hours of what is essentially a courtroom drama about a piece of legislation.
The material doesn't get more dramatic. January 1865: In the waning but still horribly bloody days of the war, Lincoln and his bickersome Cabinet are wrestling with how to end it -- and slavery. The complexities are enormous.
The country, including Lincoln, desperately wants peace. But he wants the 13th Amendment even more. No new constitutional amendment had been adopted since 1804. The 13th, outlawing slavery, had been passed by the Senate in 1864 but still languished in the House.
The proclamation declared freedom for slaves in the 10 Confederate states, not in the border states; nor did it make slavery illegal in itself. Lincoln and other abolitionists were concerned that, once the war ended, it could be construed as a temporary measure solely based on presidential war powers.
Lincoln was nothing if not a lawyer -- a damn good one -- who saw that permanently ending slavery was as big a legal as a military problem to repair the fatally flawed Constitution at its hypocritical core.
Based, in part, from Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals," Tony Kushner's screenplay reminds us of what a divided and unmanageable thing this new Republican Party was. The rivals in Lincoln's Cabinet team included his defeated competitors for the 1860 presidential nomination, chief among them William Seward (David Strathairn), the secretary of state, and Edwin Stanton (Bruce McGill), the short-tempered secretary of war.
But the show is stolen by Pennsylvania's own Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), acid-tongued leader of the "Bloody Shirt" radicals, on whom Lincoln most depended for passage of the amendment in the House of Representatives.
Mr. Jones brilliantly plays this great firebrand, who founded one of the first publicly funded schools for black children.
Mr. Day-Lewis, who looks like he just stepped off the $5 bill, carefully crafts Lincoln from the inside out: a shrewd, playful power broker of many paradoxes, homely in all ways, who liked to speak in parables. Sally Field's Mary Todd Lincoln is no less powerful.
"Lincoln" is good history and a grand film.
The DVD comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette. The Blu-ray adds "A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia," about the location. A four-disc combo set adds featurettes on Day-Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln, production design and costume and a look at the editing, sound design and the musical score by John Williams.
' Killing Them Softly'
'Killing Them Softly'
This alternately bitterly funny and labored gangland parable possesses a modicum of swagger and style. Though anchored by a terrific lead performance from Brad Pitt, it perpetuates some of the crime genre's more tedious cliches, from slow-motion savagery to facile cynicism.
Director Andrew Dominik tries to ratchet up the relevance by larding "Killing Them Softly" with references to the 2008 election, the financial meltdown and the similarities between Darwinian capitalism and street crime at its most thuggish and unforgiving.
But rather than bitingly of-the-moment, the allegorical efforts feel strained, completely at odds with the air of seedy spontaneity that graces the film's most indelible and even delectable moments.
The extras include making-of featurette and deleted scenes.
-- The Washington Post
' Parental Guidance'
2 stars = Mediocre
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are grandparents called in by their daughter to help care for their three grandchildren in this comedy with too few laughs.
Mr. Crystal plays Artie Decker, a minor-league baseball team announcer fired from the job he loves for not being of the Twitter age.
The technological and parental bends really set in when he and wife Diane agree to baby-sit their three grandchildren in Atlanta when their only child, Alice (Marisa Tomei), and her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), need to go out of town.
Cultures clash the minute the grandparents arrive, toting super soaker toys and Artie Decker bobbleheads, at the couple's fully automated, voice-activated smart house.
The littlest one is a hellion with an imaginary kangaroo, his 8-year-old brother is taunted by a school bully because he stutters, while their sister is a tightly wound 12-year-old who aspires to become a professional violinist.
After some false starts, Artie and Diane are left alone with the children, and missteps and miscues begin, with one lapse in judgment even landing on the news.
Instead of being a golden oldie, this is often moldy, seeming like an elongated TV sitcom.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
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• "Continuum: Season One": Time traveling cable series with Rachel Nichols.
• "Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXVI": Includes "The Magic Sword" and "The Mole People."
• "Star Trek: Enterprise -- the Complete First Season": The first year of the TV series about the early days of the Enterprise is available on Blu-ray.
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-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers