Saturday, December 29, 2012

There It Goes.....

As each year passes it just becomes more apparent...the older you are, the faster it goes. Like someone hit the fast forward button around my late 20s and Life hasn't slowed. A bit. When I was a kid, things seemed to move at a crawl. Especially Christmas. December was interminably long in those days. I would get little sleep on the Eve. Now, I look up and it's the 26th. And I slept till almost 9 on Christmas Morn.

This year's holiday time was quite nice.  As before, my wife and I made the rounds of visiting parents and assorted relatives, but this year there were more little ones to watch tearing into presents.  My wife's step-father had a long time coming reconciliation with his elder son this year, an answer to many's prayers. The son's 2 kids joined the annual Eve at my MIL's, and it was fun, aside from the in-the-family-for-generations Christmas dish that shattered as the children ran wild.

Also: my step-father-in-law's other son's daughter - the one I've mentioned was a bit of a brat on Christmas Eve in earlier posts - is growing into a polite little girl.

We again drove to Miami to see my FIL and his longtime girlfriend. They had a beautiful 10 foot  X-mas tree on their patio and we sat near it for an excellent paella dinner.  The temps were in the low to mid 60s. It was perfect. Less so was Christmas day weather, the typical 80 degree humid fest, but that's Florida for ya. On that day we also saw my mother, still in the rehab and still not getting out of bed. I don't know what else to write about this situation.

Instead of bringing my grandmother to see my mother per usual, my wife and I drove to a different facility, where my grandmother herself is a patient. On Thanksgiving morning, she fell again, pretty much clinching a long simmering decision of mine to keep her in a "home." I've been putting it off for years now, nagged by conscience and fears for her safety.  She turned 99 this past October. For her age, she does remarkably well.  But this year I had to take over her bookkeeping. She also began to fight a bit with her aides. I started receiving calls from Senior Services, rightfully concerned for her well being and safety.  After an unannounced visit, they complained of a dirty spot on her carpeting (they were very thorough).

She had fallen a few times in the past 12 years and each time came out with little worse than a bruise.  But this was it. She just can't be on her own, not even for a few seconds. Since she's been at the rehab, a weight has been lifted. As expected, she is quite upset, missing her apartment, but also resigned to undeniable realities. Even though she is now surrounded by staff and other residents, she still complains of loneliness, something she struggled with all those years in her place. It has been by far her biggest complaint.

2012 was otherwise a fairly quiet year. We did move again, from the 4th floor down to the first for reasons you can read about in an earlier entry. At first, I had little love for our new place. The combination of no carpets and vertical blinds made the place feel cheap and unhomy, but I've learned to appreciate its abundant brightness and reversed floorplan, which is more practical. I want to rip those blinds out but who knows how long we'll be there? I could be composing this entry from New York or Chicago next year. Very uncertain.

Yes, we still hope to flee South Florida in the near future. The developments with my grandmother have gotten us a bit closer to such a step, but it is still a mystery as to when it will finally happen. There are lots of things that have to fall into place. I still wish that I can take my job with me as it remains a fabulous place to work. My wife is still trying to decide her next vocational step, and where.

But there it goes...2012. Another year filled with triumph and tragedy the world over. The Mayans, or at least those who interpreted them, were wrong. How was your year?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

We Bought a Zoo

2011's WE BOUGHT A ZOO is one of those reliably warm and cozy films folks tend to like because it features decent people doing honorable things. Love conquers all.  Everything will be alright. Add to this that it is based on actual events.  My viewing of it came after watching several downbeat movies, and I have to say, it was a tonic. A feel-good movie (I don't usually toss about that term) that warrants that descrption. It was nice to spend time with characters who weren't eroded of morals. That Cameron Crowe, writer and director of several wonderful films like ALMOST FAMOUS and SINGLES, had made this movie was even more encouraging.

And his dialogue is primarily what separates ZOO from thousands of other feel-good pictures. While the scenarios of a bitter, shut-down teenage boy named Dylan (Colin Ford), who lost his mother 6 months earlier, sparring with his well-meaning but emotionally inert father Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) are time worn, their words seem realistic, not so written.

This is generally true for most exchanges in the movie, which follows the Mee family, including 7-year old Maggie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), as they move into a ramshackle old house, far away from the city and its memories of the deceased matriarch.  Benjamin loves the homestead at first sight, but then learns that on the property is an abandoned zoo, complete with staff (animal and human). This includes head keeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), a potential love interest who spends every waking hour tending to her animals and indeed delivers an impassioned line about having to shovel tiger shit.

The cliches abound.  There's a scene with Dylan, entrusted to shutting the lights in a barn, who can't help but peek into a crate filled with exotic snakes.  He of course forgets to lock the box.  There's also a mildly hissable villain on hand, Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) a meticulous inspector who delivers acid tongued retorts and earns the near violent wrath of the zoo's carpenter, Peter (Angus Macfadyen). A bear escapes and wanders a neighborhood.  An aged tiger, on his last legs, is argued over as to whether to be put down. Benjamin nearly goes bankrupt keeping the zoo afloat.

But I didn't care about the nitpicks.  When a film has a heart as big as WE BOUGHT A ZOO, it is nearly impossible not to be disarmed. Crowe may be coasting a bit with this project, but his screenplay (co-written by Aline Brosh McKenna) is (unlike many "family" films) never patronizing or insulting to its viewers. Predictable, yes, but the characters are allowed to be intelligent, even if at times their nobility and cuteness threaten to turn the movie into a sapfest. My main beef is that the film is somewhat overlong, but honestly there is little I would change. The performers are all fine.  The human ones as well.

It's nice to be able to recommend an all-ages film that earns your time.  Plus, the director works in many cool tunes for the soundtrack (and a score by Jónsi, lead singer of Sigur Rós).  It wouldn't be a Crowe film without them.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas


May your Christmas (whether or not you celebrate) be filled with joy. May a quiet Peace be upon you and your loved ones.

Let whatever stress attached to this time of year melt away as believers consider the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Father Christmas

Possibly the only (secular) Christmas song you'll ever need.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

That Time Again

Above you see the rose and pine centerpiece I won this year at the annual work holiday party. I was the lucky chap at the table who had a gold star on the underside of his Christmas coffee mug. It also came in handy the next day as we entertained my father-in-law and others for lunch.

I've posted about my workplace holiday parties most Decembers since I started this blog. They're fun to document, even if "nothing happened". That's an accurate way to describe this year's outing, held at the local culinary institute's restaurant. It's been a good spot for lunch or dinner for nearly 20 years, I think. Students manned the outdoor bar on a sunny but awfully humid and warm afternoon. I will refrain from my usual rant about holiday weather in Florida. Other students were visible in the open area kitchen and at carving stations, serving salmon and beef and also cooking up fresh pasta. Each station had excellent offerings. The food was easily the best of the 4 parties I've attended. The dessert table was deadly good, especially one of my new favorites, bread pudding. Like diabetes on a plate.

My practice has been around for well over 40 years. Some of the employees have been there for 30 plus, so I've heard the stories of the old days.  Got pretty wild. The good ol' liquid courage brought the party animal out of even the meekest. At this year's annual gathering with this gang, I observed an interesting tone shift. The first party was quite lively - you can read the post from 2009. The next at the Greek restaurant was even livelier, complete with sword wielding belly dancers. But these last 2 have been almost reserved. Last year there wasn't one flash of potential Monday morning embarrassment. This year, aside from this white boy's attempts (again) at gyrations on the dance floor, much the same.

The dancing came at the very end of the gathering, with 2 deejays spinning lots of contemporary dance pop with which I was not familiar. Well, other than "Gangnam Style" which cleared the floor in an instant. What an annoying track that is. I did flail around to that one at my wife's cousin's wedding reception back in October, but I knew better this time (and wasn't as intoxicated).

The mood was pretty close to solemn throughout the afternoon.  There was the occasional explosion of laughter at a table, but mostly polite smiles. Why? Have folks mellowed in their advancing age? Most of the crew had been with us for awhile.  The newbies have quiet personalities. There were several regulars who did not attend this year, a few who might've stirred things up.

There could be one perfect explanation: maybe they heard the news. Like I had, when I glanced at my phone right after the hors d'oeuvres. The terrible, inexplicable massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. I read only a few sentences, but enough to ensure a hollow feeling in my gut that continues at the the time of this writing. I at first wanted to chat with others about it, but then thought the better of ruining everyone's afternoon.  There was the possibility of the whole thing degenerating into a gun control debate, to boot.  It was hard to be jolly as I thought of the chaos and tears. I wondered who in our group - the majority of them parents- were aware and trying to keep a happy face.

But I think the mood of the party also reflected some of the current dynamic in our practice.  The older physicians have a more carefree, even playful manner about them, even to this day. The Halloween pictures from years ago reveal some elaborate get-ups that even the top docs wore while seeing patients. Nowadays, very sparse. The younger docs are far more serious. Less social, less likely to kibbitz with patients about the golf game they shared the week before. Even our everyday lunches in the work kitchen are a telltale - the younger docs pretty much always eat at their desks while charting. I do much the same lately, though I try to sit at the table when I can, lest I appear a recluse.

For me, some of the enjoyment was also marred by the admission of a colleague who works in our other office (who I see in person maybe twice a year) of a rather tense e-mail exchange between she and another colleague. As well as our staff gets along, there's still the occasional dust-up. The ultimate resolution of the cyber dilemma was a bit disheartening. But she did relay her exciting engagement news. She's a wonderful person and I'm very happy for her.

But listen, overall it was still an enjoyable 4 hours. Staff anniversaries were again recognized and rewarded. Laughs were shared. I'm still very, very blessed to be among such a professional group, doing what I find very fulfilling. I look forward to more parties, even without the table dancing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shoot the Piano Player

I watched Francois Truffaut's 1960 gem SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER again this past July 4th. It seemed, I dunno, wrong. Unpatriotic, even. But then I remembered that the French helped us in our Revolution, and then went off and had one of their own. Ce jour-là, je suis aussi français.

I was also reminded what a unique film this is. A tip of the hat to the American film noir, yes, but yet a Truffaut original. A wildly stylish affair sporting jump cuts, a devil-may-care attitude, and even a nude scene. Might this been a bit much for its original audiences? Some reasons why this film was not a box office draw?

A pianist named Charlie (Charles Aznavour) is framed behind the ivories in a semi-seedy Paris nightclub. He seems sad. There are gangsters hanging around. Charlie's brother's criminal activity again invades his life. He enjoys dalliances with his neighbor, a prostitute (yes, with a heart of gold; she even watches his young son), but life is far from joyous. In earlier, more hopeful days he was a professional musician named Edouard Saroyan. That was before his troubled wife jumped out a window after confessing that perhaps the only reason Edouard got an agent was because she slept with the guy.

A ray of hope? There's an attractive waitress at the club named Lena (Marie Dubois). Charlie likes her, but has significant reservations about how to approach her. As they stroll an avenue after closing one night, we hear his neurotic thoughts: Should I hold her hand? He's like Woody Allen from another era.

The complexity of gender relations forms a great deal of SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER. The 2 gangsters seen earlier kidnap our would-be couple, engaging them in a tennis match of a conversation about (mainly female) behavior. It's quite funny, the bluntness of one of the men's observations about women as if they are no more than black widows, enticing predators.

This fits nicely into Truffaut's tribute to all the duplicitous dames in American noirs. A sort of heady commentary via highly entertaining exchanges among the principals. The other usual noir elements also get a workout. As the plot develops, Charlie's son is also kidnapped, Charlie stabs (in self-defense) his loutish boss at the club, and he eventually finds himself back with his brothers, awaiting an showdown with guns.

But it's all so distinctively French, so self-conscious, so self-deprecating. I laughed out loud as Charlie, in flashback, shops for books on "How To Beat Shyness", in his efforts to be more assertive. Like those American icons who filled the screen?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Wiseacre Duos: 10cc, Part III


"Everything was done to the max. No compromise. We never said 'that'll be alright.' Eventually it got overdone." - Graham Gouldman.


10cc's tunes, as you might've gathered by now, were not standard radio fare. Their witty, sometimes silly, cacophonous and euphonious compositions really put them in their own class. They were sometimes referred to as the U.K.'s answer to Steely Dan. The band's countrymen embraced their scathing lyrics (laced with punnery) and sometimes boppable melodies and made many of their singles sizable hits. But they couldn't crack the American charts. Until a majestic, otherworldly, and altogether absurd track called "I'm Not in Love," caught on in 1975. It was a smash, a song that was often programmed amongst the "yacht rock" of  Seals & Crofts and Ambrosia, but was far more musically dense.

"I'm Not in Love" was pulled from the album The Original Soundtrack, which sported another fascinating bit of cover art by Hipgnosis, the English art design group which created many memorable album covers (including numerous for Pink Floyd) from the late 60s through early 80s. Soundtrack featured a peer into a film editing machine, a frame with a cowboy in some alleged Western. Reels of film and strewn celluloid hang in the background.  The track takes the prototypical love denial piece and positively eviscerates it, while somehow remaining pop friendly. Eric Stewart's heavenly voice informs us, ad nauseam, that he just doesn't love his unnamed counterpart. In fact, he even informs them "I keep your picture on the wall.  It hides a nasty stain that's lying there"! Stewart admitted later that the song was an ode to the very phrase "I love you" and how it may lose its gravity by being repeated offhandedly so often between couples. 

The ethereal voices that open the track feature the band singing monosyllables over and over, an effect that becomes almost hypnotic.  As Steely Dan had done a few years earlier, 10cc studio wizards (the band members themselves) devised a way to loop sounds into a multi-track recorder. A likely arduous process that as Gouldman states, can be accomplished these days via an emulator (computer which duplicates the functions of another computer).

The Original Soundtrack is a fully realized work, a culmination and taming of the wild creativity and advanced musicianship that was honed on the band's debut album and the sophomore effort Sheet Music (still my personal favorite). As with that of other wiseacre duos, styles are shifted from track to track with what seems to be relative ease. A shake-your-fist-at-God lament, "The Second Sitting of the Last Supper" (with trenchant lyrics) is all heavy guitar with some sprinkling of piano. "Brand New Day" sports more lovely "pianistics" overlaid with vocals (by Stewart and drummer Kevin Godley) that evoke a "Negro slave spiritual".  It almost sounds like a Broadway show tune.  In fact, many of 10cc's songs remind me of that particular style, but with a much more sinister paradigm.

Case in point? Soundtrack opens with "One Night in Paris", an over eight-minute long suite in three parts. A short opera, if you will, with cabaret style vocal and very vivid portraits of Parisian red light districts. It is rumored that Queen were inspired to record "Bohemian Rhapsody" after hearing this track. Crazily cinematic.

And speaking of cinema, "The Film of My Love" is a very funny (and mildly obscene) love song, every verse an allusion to that most enduring of media (check the album's name!), sung by Gouldman, again in cabaret style. "Flying Junk" is the album's one misfire, the inevitable drug tune, though with some nice, Beatlesque vocals.   "Blackmail" is the darkest track, a sleazily observant tale of tabloid photographers and assorted scandals. That selection has some serious squealing guitar and the simultaneous use of the "Gizmo", a device described as a "sixteen wheeled machine you fix to the bridge of a guitar.  Depress one of the buttons and the wheel would revolve as it is pressed down on a string, creating a droning note, like a violin." This device would be, erm, instrumental in the parting of the ways of our two wiseacre duos during the next album.......

Monday, December 10, 2012

Contagion

SPOILERS!!

Whatever other qualities it has, I think director Steven Soderbergh's 2011 thriller CONTAGION works best as a scary Public Service Announcement arguing the importance of washing your hands. And wiping down your workspace. And for heaven's sake, don't touch your face so much! During one of my internships, a preceptor (who was a true blue germaphobe) ended one day with, "If there's any wisdom I can impart to you, make sure you scrub furiously after every patient."

That advice has proven invaluable. I encounter a lot of bloody external auditory meatii. Other orifices, too. But of course potential contagions need not be so obvious. Objects ("fomites") like otoscopes and neckties can carry millions of germs and parasites. Another good reason not to wear those damned things. And if I touch an infectious patient, all the surfaces I touch afterward are breeding grounds for infection. People go about their day, grabbing doorknobs and handrails on the bus. The contagion could quickly and easily go exponential.

A woman named Beth (Gwenyth Paltrow) is coughing at the airport during Thanksgiving weekend. She just spent her afternoon layover in Chicago having an extramarital tryst. She thinks she's just suffering a nasty cold. After all, she spent an eternity on a plane returning from the Orient. Her condition degrades rapidly once home with her husband (Matt Damon) in Minneapolis. She and her son will be dead within 24 hours. The news reports several deaths in Hong Kong, Chicago, and several other cities.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control join forces and race against the clock to identify the origin of the outbreak and whether it is part of a bio-terrorism plot. The pathogen is traced back to Beth by an Epidemic Intelligence officer named Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) whose efforts to secure funding for medical stations around Minneapolis are met with the usual red tape. By the time a large facility is approved and operational, Mears will find herself on one of the gurneys.

CONTAGION's impressive ensemble cast also features Elliott Gould as Ian Sussman, a university professor who breaks protocol and discovers within the virus a grouping of bat cells. Dr. Ally Hextal (Jennifer Ehle, who just about steals the movie from her more famous cast-mates), continues Sussman's research and learns of the additional presence of pig and human content within the viruses that mutates at a rate of 2, meaning that for every case of the infection, two more will be generated over its infectious period. My favorite moments in CONTAGION featured Hextal as her mind began to spin furiously into action. After she discovers a vaccine, she inoculates herself and tests this by exposing herself to her infected father (in a concise and very effective scene).

The film has been constructed to resemble a docudrama, with several scenes of medical explanations and concerned faces. There are also the expected moments of chaos - of desperate citizens looting and degenerating to violence when vaccines and food run out. Yet, the director is guiltless of overly stylizing his movie, and Soderbergh crafts CONTAGION with an austerity that is close to perfect, spurring interest from the viewer on several levels: intellectually, emotionally, viscerally. The film was shot with the RED MX digital camera and looks astonishing. The clarity of the visual is icily perfect for Soderbergh's purposes here, as coldly precise as science itself.

I found the statements the screenplay makes regarding the character of Alan (Jude Law), a conspiracy theorist whose blog becomes insanely popular during the outbreak, quite fitting as well. Millions read his rants against pharmaceutical companies and the medical establishment. When he corners Dr. Sussman for information, the professor retorts, "You know what a blog is, don't you? Graffiti with punctuation." Alan champions a holistic preparation derived from the forsythia plant, then pretends to be infected and cured by the substance. Once the vaccine is perfected and proven successful, CONTAGION makes clear that evidence-based, pure medicine will save the day.

If anyone reading this works in a medical office, by the way, remember: Cavicide is your friend.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Brooklyn Bridge

We made another trip to the New York City area this past October. In a case of Really Good Timing, we flew back one week before "Superstorm" Sandy made landfall in the Northeast. Thankfully, those we visited were largely spared any damage.

Full visit: wedding in Long Island and lots of family time there and in northern Jersey, Queens, and Manhattan. The diversity of our trip was amusing: one day we were attending a church service in Queens, a few days later we were watching (along with my wife's cousin and his sig. other) boot clad bartenders whoop it up on the counter tops in a gay bar in Midtown called Flaming Saddles. During this spectacle, four of us shared a Frito pie - a small bag of the corn chips filled with chili and sour cream. A real find in the continuing pursuit of Trash Cuisine.

The second to last day, we finally walked the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan to Brooklyn and back. Roughly two and half miles round trip.  It was a perfectly crisp and clear Saturday. Many tourists joined us, along with several kamikaze bicyclists (who have their own lane and think nothing of grazing you). I recommend this outing, which had been suggested several times by our friend Don. It is a heady thing to traverse this familiar landmark, seen in so many films and television shows and commercials. Standing above the traffic, gazing at the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. I couldn't help but think of poor Bobby Z from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, though his fall was from the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge.

You may have heard that on the Brooklyn side is a famous pizzeria called Grimaldi's. In my readings, it was reported that there is always a line around the corner.  We did indeed find this, and instead joined a much smaller queue at Ignazio's, a few blocks down, with a great view of the Bridge as you're waiting.  The pizza was good, as was my pumpkin lager. The amusement of our NY trip continued as we watched who was presumed to be the owner, a short, really wise-guy looking type who strutted around, asking each table if they were happy with the food and service, suggesting perhaps that someone's head may roll if they weren't. I also watched the guy motion in some other goombah friends to skip the line.

Afterwards, we wandered the neighborhood known as DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and to Pier 1 on Old Fulton and Water Streets. Lots of pedestrians (tourists). Great views of the City. Ferry boats. This is a good destination for families. I recommend the Bridge walk and beyond.  Touristy, yes, but a real delight.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck 1920-2012

Another solemn day for music. Many thanks, Dave. After God and my wife (to be), you (and many of your jazzer comrades) helped me through the perilous journey of grad school.

You will be greatly missed.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lincoln

There are moments scattered throughout LINCOLN where the principals, namely Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) and his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field), comment upon themselves. They wonder how history will view them. Muse aloud about their public perceptions and if generations next will pidgeonhole them.  It must be a great temptation for biographers to do this. Screenwriter Tony Kushner, basing his work largely on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, has constructed a thorough, dense examination of the President's final months in 1865, as a second term looms with the urgency to end both the Civil War and slavery. Lincoln is shown to have a penchant for telling lengthy stories, sometimes to the chagrin of his colleagues.  Within and without them are moments of introspection, of wonder. Of how future Americans and those abroad will observe his decisions. Did Lincoln really utter such thoughts?

It's a bit of a conceit, any time characters from the past comment upon the future.  Of course, the authors of their words have the benefit of the present, and a hindsight upon which they shine a light to reveal the outcomes of earlier actions. In LINCOLN, one constituent, when considering matters of not only abolition, but of complete racial equality, a co-existence not possible while Lincoln attempts to get his amendment passed, wonders if suffrage for women could next.  Even a character in DAZED AND CONFUSED, philosophizing during a keg party in 1976, wonders aloud of the coming decade, speaking things that suggest she either has great insight/foresight or is working from a script that thoughtfully considers the eventual fallout.

This seems to be a bit of minutiae, a funny tidbit to focus upon when discussing Steven Spielberg's latest film, but it filled my mind throughout this long but completely engrossing film. The director did not bathe his movie in some sort of sentimental gauze, nor did he cast the President in any angelic light, but rather the wistfulness of knowing the future makes the events of LINCOLN so much more poignant. This is a rare contemporary film that manages to be true to its subject and matters at hand, while still allowing emotional honestly that naturally derives from both familial and political drama.

LINCOLN is an impressive achievement for Spielberg in ways that echo his most spare tendencies, seen in SCHINDLER'S LIST and parts of EMPIRE OF THE SUN and MUNICH. When I watched the trailer a few months earlier, my heart sank. It appeared that LINCOLN would be an overly fashioned costume drama filled with familiar actors in funny hairpieces. Fetishistic attention to period detail but little substance. Actors chewing the scenery. John Williams' majestic score cuing every reaction. Big, loud spectacles to match the music. Heavy syrup.

Within minutes, those fears were dispelled.  Spielberg and crew have taken the most tastefully minimalist approach. The opening scene does feature some flashes of brutal warfare, but nothing like the prolonged carnage of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  In fact, after a few such edits, the film announces its spare stylings with the President conversing with a few soldiers, one of whom recounts his Gettysburg Address. The scene feels almost spontaneous, not so orchestrated. The remainder of the film is a sober, supremely confident examination of a patient leader burdened with a heavy heart and blessed with a quiet, frequently misinterpreted savvy.  A recognizance of how to engineer the end of slavery and the rule of Confederacy in one Amendment (the 13th, passed in December of 1865).  LINCOLN moves almost imperceptibly from one observant moment to the next, but never once feeling "produced" or with some faux sense of importance, though every moment is just that. The score is spare and the art direction is letter perfect without calling attention to itself.

I mention that Lincoln, played with absolute authority and restraint by Lewis in a performance that can't be lauded enough, is not portrayed as a one-dimensionally self-serious dullard. Nor as a flawless saint. Or even Larger than Life. He is often seen hunched, immersed in thought. But he is also not portrayed as a passive or pious figure. The complexities along the road to Amendment passage in the House are numerous, with much backroom wheeling and dealing, vote courting, and even some creativity with the English language (Lincoln was a lawyer, after all). Watching the mechanics of politics in LINCOLN never becomes tiresome or boring, but reminds us 1. Compelling filmic drama often occurs merely when people are speaking to each other and 2. Little has changed in Washington. 3. For a great(er) cause, sometimes the path there may be fraught with a bit of eyebrow raising tactics. Sometimes, the end truly justifies the means. 

Lewis is surrounded by a superb cast, all of whom are quite fine. Field draws much strength as a mother concerned about her eldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is itching to fight in the War. She has long grieved another son who had passed away and in an especially powerful scene confronts her husband over his perceived lack of grief.  Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, Congressional leader of the Radical Republicans, whose single-mindedness for abolition fires his mission (and his tongue); this performance is almost certain to garner an Academy Award nomination.  James Spader also gets to flex some acting chops as Party operative William Bilbo, one of several Lincoln enlists to solicit votes from reluctant House Democrats. David Strathairn, Jackie Earl Haley, Tim Blake Nelson, and many others are all solid.

By the end, when Lincoln sits on a porch with Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris), the latter remarks how it appears that the President had aged a decade since he last saw him.  Yes, little has changed in Washington.