Thanks to time off over the holidays, my moviegoing mojo has continued at an unprecedented clip, as I recently screened three new films – “Lincoln,” “Jack Reacher” and “Zero Dark Thirty” – all at Delaware’s newest cinema on the Riverfront, “The Penn.” (I probably went to three motion pictures on average – max – in each of the last five years.)
“The Penn” starts off with the advantage of having a good movie house name. (“Regal Brandywine 16?”… “Newport Cinemark Movies 10?” c’mon!) The theatres are nicely sized, with two-tiered seating, featuring big, comfortable “rocking” chairs (much to my youngest’s delight) with wide arm rests, cup holders and generous leg/aisle room. Parking is good with more than one well-lit lot, and on two occasions we opted for convenient spots just across Justison Landing.
To pick a few nits, from an aesthetics point of view, the foyer is underwhelming, a drab, generic entryway that looks unfinished (because it probably is: there is still a dark tarp covering something above the entrance) and could use some serious jazzing up. First-time visitors may be confused by the lack of ticket counter. Immediately on the right The Penn does have a small bank of five or so automated ticket machines. However, theatre operators have apparently decided that it makes more economic sense to combine the role of popcorn server and ticket seller so if you want to buy your ticket from a human, you have to stand in line with everyone queuing up to pay $15 bucks for a medium soda and pack of Twizzlers. Unfortunately, this isn’t made clear until you speak with the concessions counter staff.
These are minor complaints in light of The Penn’s most endearing and important trait: It is now the closest movie theatre to my home. New theatre: A strong three of four stars.
On to the shows.
I don’t believe any video recordings of our 16th President exist, but if they are hidden away in some forgotten archives, Daniel Day Lewis has watched them daily for the last five years. And if the rest of us were to view these ancient tapes, I’m pretty sure that it would be impossible to tell the difference between the real McCoy and Lewis’s performance in this movie.
“Lincoln” is really just a beautiful thing to behold. Lewis’s incarnation of the country’s great savior is so mesmerizing and so uncanny it must go down as one of the finest portrayals of any historic figure in the history of film.
His surrounding cast does him great justice. From Sally Field as a tortured, bereaved – but calculating – First Lady Mary Todd, to David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward to James Spader as a blue crab-eating lobbyist employed to do the dirty work necessary to achieve passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the actors bring you into a period and moment that deserves the undivided attention and interest of every American. Even old Tommy Lee Jones – someone I have long resisted liking (despite a superb turn in the first “Men in Black”) due to strictly and unfairly to his collegiate association with Al Gore – is excellent, playing the role of the glabrous and sharp-tongued abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens.
Some including my wife have noted that this movie about the fight to end slavery could have done with a bit more context and that it featured nary a slave, nor the perspective of those whose very personhood was at stake in the “great civil war.” These observations are true enough, but they do not detract from the fantastic piece of filmmaking Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day Lewis have brought to the screen. They have literally made history. Four stars.
First, before we move on, let me apologize for mentioning Tom Cruise’s latest movie on the same page as the magisterial “Lincoln.” What can I say? “Reacher,” the latest Cruise action vehicle offers everything you love and
hate are uncomfortable with about Tom Cruise. He flashes his smile. He flashes his temper. He flashes his pecs.
I’ve read a few of author Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books – Reacher is a dark, giant of a man with a haunted past – and I expect most of his fans will be disappointed with Cruise’s depiction. His co-star, Rosamund Pike, has received generally favorable reviews for her portrayal of a Pittsburgh lawyer who drives a very expensive-looking Mercedes. I found her character to be a bit of a stretch.
(An aside: since when did about half of all TV and movie roles in the US start going to the British? Daniel Day Lewis is Irish, first of all, and secondly he is Daniel Day Lewis, so that doesn’t count. But my Googling has surprisingly exposed Ms. Pike as a Brit, not too long after I discovered about half the cast of “Homeland” speak English with a funny accent. How is this possible? Are there no average American character actors left? With unemployment so high, can we really afford to be giving these good-paying jobs away to foreigners who have to pretend to speak American?!)
Anyhow, Reacher = reaching. Two stars.
Speaking of “Homeland,” “Zero Dark Thirty” also has an intense and beautiful young female spy in the lead, played by Jessica Chastain. There are many other very good-looking people in the movie and one has to wonder if anyone in Hollywood has heard the old joke that politics is show business for ugly people.
Glammed up or not, Chastain and her castmates capture the spirit of the long but ultimately successful hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It is fast-paced, exciting and entirely believable. There are a few liberties taken here and there for sure, but overall the movie conveys the blend of professionalism, luck and timing that found OBL and led to his overdue demise.
ZDT … 1, 2, 3 (and a half) stars.