This Week in Movies & TV, March 26, 2013: Presidents, Popes, & Prisoners

Lincoln

January 1865, with the American Civil War in its fourth year, two months after Abraham Lincoln's re-election, there is much to be done, a nation to be remade in a new form. Lincoln - directed by Steven Spielberg from Tony Kushner's screenplay, basedin part on a biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin - depicts the true events confronting the president and his monumental political challenge to amend the United States Constitution to permanently abolish slavery. This is not just a historical but also a human drama as Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) struggles and strains to convince members of his cabinet, members of the House, possible "yeah" voters in the Democratic opposition party - and even his wife Mary (Sally Field) - of the wisdom, moral rightness, and historical necessity of the 13th Amendment.

The president and his associates are willing to use any means necessary, including persuasion of well argued points, appeals to conscience, cajoling, bullying, intimidation, threats, bribery with cushy government posts, and plain, old envelopes of banknotes to get those 20 more votes (beyond those tentatively offered by the shakily loyal Republicans) needed to pass the amendment. As Tommy Lee Jones'Thaddeus Stevens says, it "was passed by corruption, aidedand abetted by the purest man in America."

There's plentiful detail throughout the in-depth, deep-focus compositions. Much of the drama takes place in dark, lamp and candle-lit rooms but even in the shadows you can see the webs of lines in Jones' and Day-Lewis' faces, strands of white hair in his beard. Creases in shirt sleeves, intricacies in Mary's jewelry, and patterns in embroidery and lacework in curtains and on the collars of Mary's dresses are all visible, the stripes in those dresses well defined without any bleeding at all.

Contrast is excellent, daytime scenes all bright and crisp with vivid reds and blues in flags and dazzling whites in between and in the papers of state, while Union uniforms have a darker blue richness to them. Frock coats are deepest black as is Lincoln's famous high top hat. Many images, though, have the look of historical paintings with somber tones, others like tinted photographs. Nonetheless, skin is exceptionally natural throughout with subtle gradations of tones, while faces are rounded, solid, and dimensional.

The music by John Williams stays mainly at the front - often just a single piano or a trumpet, as when Lincoln goes off to see his final play - with only slight presence in the surrounds, mostly during occasional orchestral pieces. But starting out with the opening bloody battle fought in a shallow river, the 7.1-channel mix surrounds you with hand-to-hand combat, the yells of those being drowned or bayonetted, and gunfire all about. The use of all channels for atmospherics and effects goes on with the president talking to soldiers in a highly immersive rain downpour and continues throughout the film putting you in the midst of a cheering and laughing crowd, the debate in the House, or amongst the clicking of telegraphs of the war room. In other scenes the very crisp and open soundtrack uses a well-placed ticking clock, crackling open fire, murmuring from the corridor behind you to create a mood but also to give the interior space a convincing volume so that it seems you're there in the room with Lincoln.

There's almost constant discussion, debate, and conversation throughout and, thankfully, it's all clear, even Day-Lewis's soft-spoken Lincoln, his full, resounding oration, and occasional prophet-like angry outburst. The few other LFEs beyond this are all equally effective including the bassy rumblings in Lincoln's dreaming of a huge ship moving faster than he was comfortable with, the roaring of flames burning a city, or the president slamming his mighty hand down on the desk to end an argument.

Lincoln was nominated for 12 Oscars - including Best Picture, Directing, Writing, Actor (Day-Lewis), Supporting Actress (Field), Supporting Actor (Jones), Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski), Film Editing, Music, Production Design, Costume Design, and Sound Mixing - winning for Best Actor and Production Design (Rick Carter for Production Design and Jim Erickson for Set Decoration).
Lincoln's excellent cast includes co-stars David Strathaim, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Jared Harris, Jackie Earle Haley, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, and Bruce McGill.

A 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD set is available but the 4-disc Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy set comes with another Blu-ray disc containing 80 minutes extra extras including the featurettes "In The Company Of Character" about Day-Lewis portrayal of Lincoln, "Crafting The Past" on the re-creation of Lincoln's era, "Living With Lincoln" on the shooting of the film, and "In Lincoln's Footsteps" on the film's editing, sound design, and musical score.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: "The Journey To Lincoln," "A Historic Tapestry – Richmond, Virginia," "In The Company Of Character," "Crafting The Past," "Living With Lincoln," and "In Lincoln's Footsteps" featurettes; DVD and digital copy. Studio: Disney.

Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 1

One hundred years before Captain James T. Kirk boldly went, way back in the 22nd century, Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) took the revolutionary Enterprise NX-01 - and Mankind - off into a new age of space travel through its unique ability to break Earth's Warp 5 barrier, thereby, for the first time,making interstellar voyages feasible.

Archer, with his crew of brave explorers - including trusted friend and Chief Engineer Charles "Trip" Tucker III (Connor Trinneer), Vulcan Science Officer T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), taciturn Tactical Officer and the man in charge of ship security Lt. Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), Communications Officer and linguistic genius Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), Helmsman and space boomer Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), constantly cheerful Denobulan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) - venture into deep space (the final frontier), seeking to chart the galaxy and unknown star systems, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Star Trek Enterprise (2001-2005), created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, is set halfway between the 21st-century events shown in the movie Star Trek:First Contactand the original Star Trektelevision series. Relatingthe adventures of the space pioneers who first ventured into the universe, Enterprise itself was a pioneer, being the first Star Trek series to be broadcast in high def (mid-third season) and the first to be shot on digital video (fourth season).

The six-disc set contains all 25 episodes from this inaugural season. The soundtrack has been remastered in 7.1-channels.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary by co-creator/executive producer Braga, director James L. Conway, visual effects producer Dan Curry, and cast members Trinneer and Keating on "Broken Bow" episode, commentary by Braga and co-creator/executive producer Berman on "Broken Bow" episode, text commentary by crew members (film not spaceship) Michael and Denise Okuda on "Broken Bow" episode, "To Boldly Go: Launching Enterprise" multi-part retrospective documentary, deleted scenes, "In Conversation: Rick Berman and Brannon Braga," "Archival Mission Log: Creating Enterprise," "Archival Mission Log: O Captain! My Captain!" profile of Bakula, "Archival Mission Log: NX-01 File 02," "Cast Introduction," "Network Presentation," and "Syndication Presentation" featurettes. Studio: Paramount.

The Borgias: Season 2

The saga of the biggest Italian crime family of all, headed up by thecapo ditutticapi, continues - in 1492. Oh, the goings on in that complex Sin City by the Tiber called the Vatican! A world filled with corruption, intrigue, and murder - and that's just within the family.

Created by executive producer Neil Jordan, this wickedly entertaining TV drama series tells of patriarch Rodrigo (Jeremy Irons) who rules over the Borgia clan and, using all his highly developed talents for deceit, scheming, and manipulation, ascends to the highest circles of power within Renaissance-era Rome, finally, through blackmailing and dealmaking, by hook or by Cardinal's crook, getting himself elected Pope Alexander VI.

Putting aside the teachings of Jesus, the supposed apostles of Christ in Rome continue to ignore their duties as shepherds of the faithful, a role on which they base their authority, in order to focus on their worldly power-hunger, lusting, and other scandalous behavior, unchecked by the laws of God or man, that must make Jesus turn in his heavens. In Season 2, with the Papacy fully under his control and his adversaries no longer capable of seriously challenging his legitimacy, Alexander decides its payback time and intends to finally bring down those rival houses that had been a thorn in his side for so long, swearing his family to an oath of vengeance. Only problem is his children have their own agendas and have each grown up despising him and defying his authority.

The Borgias co-stars Holliday Grainger, François Arnaud, David Oakes, Colm Feore, Joanne Whalley, Lotte Verbeek, and Sean Harris.

The three-disc collection contains all ten one-hour episodes, running approximately 520 minutes.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. Extras: "The World of Borgias" and "Sho Original: Interviews and Behind the Scenes"featurettes, first two episodes of the Californication: Season 5 and first two episodes of House of Lies (all via BD-LIVE). Studio: Paramount.

Panic in the Streets

From director Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden) the black-and-white film noir melodrama Panic in the Streets (1950) tells of the search by a public health doctor and a policeman whom have only 48 hours to locate a killer infected with pneumonic plague in New Orleans.

After a bullet-ridden floater turns up in the water off the New Orleans docksLt. Cmdr. Clinton 'Clint' Reed M.D (Richard Widmark) diagnoses that it wasn't just the lead poisoning that killed the corpse, but that it carries a virulent strain ofpneumonic plague, a highly contagious disease more virulent than its bubonic brother. In a desperate race to prevent the highly contagious disease from spreading outside the port area and threatening the whole country, a manhunt begins. It's headed up by Reed and Capt. Tom Warren (Paul Douglas), who're working against the clock in figuring out who was involved in the killing and tracking them down -along with everyone else who came into contact with the stowaway illegal immigrant - so that Reed can inoculate them all,and Warren can bring the crooks, led by bad-guy Blackie (Jack Palance in his first film role), to justice.

Panic in the Streets co-stars Barbara Bel Geddes, Zero Mostel, and Dan Riss but also includes numerous New Orleans citizens in speaking and non-speaking parts. The film won an Oscar for Best Writing. 

Video: 1.37:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extras: commentary by authors and historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, "Jack Palance From Grit to Grace" and "Richard Widmark: Strength of Character" featurettes (44 minutes each). Studio: 20th Century Fox.

A Man Escaped

A man begins to plan an escape. In intricate, methodical detail he works out how it can be achieved. He just needs time. He starts to put his plan into action, removing pieces of wood from his door, slowly, slowly, one by one. Eventually, having made a rope from his blanket and a hook from a piece of metal, he feels he has everything he needs to get out of his cell and climb the walls of the prison. And then the Nazis announce that he is to be executed.

With this simple plot, director Robert Bresson (Pickpocket, Diary of a Country Priest, Au Hasard Balthazar) turns the memoirs of André Devigny - a French resistance leader who, during the war, was imprisoned in the Gestapo's notorious Fort Montluc in Lyon - into an incredibly taut and gripping, yet spare and spiritual film about the single-minded pursuit of transcendent freedom.

With limited dialog from a cast of non-professional actors and great use of silence, threatening random sounds, and fragment from Mozart'sGreat Mass in C minor, the director creates a bare-bones, almost documentary-like recording of the struggles of a man. And through this stripping away of any extraneous elements of heroics, sentimentality, or melodrama, Bresson is able to focus on the individual's existential experience - expecting to die at any moment but determining to live - and through that alone creates an enormous tension.

In 1957, A Man Escaped (Un condamné à mort s'est échappé)won Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Video: 1.33:1. Audio: French LPCM Mono with English subtitles. Extras: "Bresson: Without A Trace" 68-minute episode of the French television series Cineastes de notre temps from 1965 in which Bresson is interviewed (the French director's first on camera) by Cahiers du cinema writer Francois Weyergans (in French with optional English subtitles), The Road to Bresson 57-minute documentary directed by Dutch filmmakers Jurrien Rood and Leo de Boer which examines the unique style of Bresson through interviews with filmmakers Andrei Tarkovsky, Orson Welles, Louis Malle, Paul Schrader and actor Dominique Sanda (in Dutch and other languages with optional English subtitles), The Essence of Forms 46-minute documentary directed by Pierre-Henri Gilbert featuring interviews with actor and director Francois Leterrier (Emmanuelle 3: Goodbye Emmanuelle), Iranian filmmaker Iradj Azimi (The Raft of the Medusa), French filmmaker Bruno Dumont (Flanders), and cinematographers Pierre Lhomme (Camille Claudel, Army of Shadows) and Emmanuel Machuel (Van Gogh, Casa de Lava) (in French, with optional English subtitles), "Functions of Film Sound" visual essay setting clips from A Man Escaped to a reading by actor Dan Stewart of the "Functions of Film Sound" chapter of the book Film Art by David Bowell and Kristin Thompson analyzing the film's sound design, illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Tony Pipolo. Studio: The Criterion Collection.

Veep: Season 1

The HBO TV series Veep tells of a woman, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who becomes the first female Vice President of the United States of America, a situation that just might lead to her suddenly becoming President. The day-to-day ins and outs, ups and downs, tos-and-fros, and trials and tribulations of her life and office operations are depicted in this wittily scripted show with cast improv injections.

Behind the scenes the political staff helping Meyer includes Communications Director Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh), disinclined to activity or exertion, to taking on responsibilityor any of the challenges of his position, but who goes back a ways with her and is able to keep everything running - barely - by handing things off to Deputy Communications Director Dan Egan (Reid Scott), a highly ambitious and ruthless young man after Mike's job. Meyer's Chief of Staff, Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), overseas everything and Gary Walsh (Tony Hale), Meyer's dementedly unflagging personal aide overseas her as she deals with photo ops, the press, bloggers, and the American people - her boss.

West Wing it ain't, but the beloved satirical comedy series, created by Armando Iannucci (Oscar nomined for co-writingIn the Loop), was nominated for three 2012 Emmy Awards, Louis-Dreyfus winning for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. 

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: 12 episode commentaries by show Iannucci, Louis-Dreyfus, Chlumsky, Hale, executive producers Frank Rich and Chris Godsick, and more,"The Making of Veep" and "Veep: Misspoke" featurettes, "Veep: Obesity" hilarious public service announcement, and deleted scenes; DVD, digital copy, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: HBO.

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