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Saturday, November 10, 2012


"I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell."  
- Harry S Truman

'Witness' turns camera on photojournalists



WHAT DRIVES THESE PROFESSIONALS TO GO TO DANGEROUS PLACES TO RISK THEIR LIVES FOR A PICTURE IS AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED IN A FOUR-PART SERIES ON HBO.

Amid the rise of the Internet, political partisanship and the media conglomerates, the press may have lost some of its post-"All the President's Men" rumpled luster, but combat reporters remain romantic figures. Particularly the photojournalists, strung with cameras like so many bandoleers, putting themselves in harm's way to get the shot that will explain, better perhaps than words ever could, the impact of war.

What drives them to go to places others flee, to risk their lives for a picture? And once there, what is their primary responsibility — to possibly aid those wounded or in danger or to simply document them?

These are some of the issues addressed in "Witness," which premieres Monday. WithMichael Mann and David Frankham as executive producers, the four-part series chronicles the chroniclers, following four photographers as they make their way through Juarez, Mexico; Libya; South Sudan; and Rio de Janeiro.

Telescoped, at times literally, through the lenses of these journalists, the stories that emerge are more experiential than educational — viewers are parachuted into these far-flung settings with little or no prep on either the history of the region or their guides. As we follow in the photographers' wake, information, both cultural and personal, emerges, but the filmmakers are more intent on capturing their subject in motion than in reflection.

The result bears as much resemblance to a fever dream as a documentary. Startling moments of vivid beauty and violence give way to the more mundane work of reportage — images of a photographer at work turn into the image he or she has shot, framed then again by the filmmakers, and moments of actual revelation come at you sideways.

In "Witness: Juarez," for example, Eros Hoagland joins law enforcement officials at a crime scene where a young man has been shot. We watch as, bleeding, he cries for help and falls out of his car. As Hoagland narrates, many people are standing around watching this happen, including him, because he is taking the picture.

"Juarez" is the first to air; at 25 minutes, it is also the shortest. We follow Hoagland as he navigates the streets of the most dangerous city in North America, talking to members of the community, of the police force and Charles Bowden, author of "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields." All say essentially the same thing: The drug lords control the city, thousands die and nothing seems to be working.

Hoagland, who has worked in Central America and the Middle East, attempts to evoke the emotion of the city, his imagery both joyful and disturbing. We learn, eventually, that he was drawn to his profession after his father, Newsweek photographer John Hoagland, was killed in El Salvador when Eros was a boy.

He remembers, he says, all the pictures taken of him and his family, of his father's funeral, and how upsetting it was to experience. And he remembers his mother telling him that the photographers were just doing their job, as his father had done his job.

This sentiment infuses the series, providing whatever connective tissue there is between the stories. None of the episodes, which run about an hour apiece, are neatly packaged fables of heroism or determination or regret. Instead they are open-ended tangles of all these things and more.

In the Sudan, French photojournalist Véronique de Viguerie goes into the jungle in search of the Arrow Boys, an armed militia fighting the murderous Lord's Resistance Army. As she interacts with the various villagers who will help her find them, she reveals that she is pregnant, and indeed her belly grows as the story progresses. Some women, she says, would go home, but this is what she does.

It is not a perfect series. At times, the overlying images — here is the moody photographer, here is the photographer moodily taking the photograph — become overly artsy, and it is a trifle distracting that all of the principals could model for a living if journalism stops paying.

But the biggest obstacle is the series' intent. The photographer's belief that the image exists, at times, beyond the narrative is a difficult point to make in a film that requires, at some level, a recognizable story line.

In "Witness" we are left with far more questions than answers or even observations. At times in each of the episodes, it's difficult not to wonder what, exactly, these films are about. The horror of war? The artistry of capturing that horror? The need to believe in the existence, still, of pure truth tellers?

Fortunately, they're all good questions, important and worth asking in any format.

'Witness'
Where: HBO
When: 9 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

‘Star Trek’ and ‘Doctor Who’: Picard and Time Lord vs. CyberBorg

Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise are striking an alliance with The Doctor and his TARDIS-traveling companions in a comic series from IDW –”Star Trek TNG/Doctor Who: Assimilation2.”

In the eight-part comic, the two transatlantic titans of television are teaming up against a villain pairing that threatens to destroy the galaxy: Cybermen and the Borg.
The series is co-written by Scott and David Tipton (who helmed “Star Trek: Infestation,” which follows a zombie epidemic in a Star Fleet colony) and Tony Lee, the longtime “Doctor Who” writer.
Here’s an exclusive first look at J.K. Woodward’s (“Fallen Angel“) cover for issue #4, which hits comic-book shops in August. Also, take a peek at the variant covers by Francesco Francavilla, the Italian artist who was nominated for an Eisner Award for his work on “Black Panther” and “Lone Ranger.” Francavilla is self-professed Whovian who creates a poster for each new “Doctor Who” episode.

Check out the art in the gallery  using the links below.

Cover | Variant cover | Black-and-white variant cover

– Noelene Clark

Twitter.com/@NoeleneClark 

RECENT AND RELATED
‘Star Trek’: Benedict Cumberbatch lights up
‘Doctor Who’: Karen Gillan on Amy Pond’s future
When Spock met Hendrix: Nimoy’s cosmic moment
LeVar Burton: Why Geordi never got the girl
David Yates looks to ‘Doctor Who’ future
Matt Smith was meant to be The Doctor
TARDIS Day: Celebrate Time Lord’s anniversary
Tennant: ‘Doctor Who’ role was ‘impossibly fortunate’
‘Star Trek Destiny’: Borg epic comes full cube
William Shatner boldly goes just about everywhere

Mad Men


AMC
AMCRECENTLY LAUNCHED CLASS CENTERS ON CONSUMERISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN THE '60S AS SEEN THROUGH THE LENS OF THE AMC SERIES.
A professor at Chicago's Northwestern University apparently thinks that Mad Men is not just entertaining but also has educational value.
Michael Allen, an assistant professor of history, has created a course titled Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960-1965. Sixteen freshmen are enrolled the course, whose syllabus includes watching the first season of the AMC show, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Lincoln (LA Times Review)





Hollywood's most successful director turns on a dime and delivers his most restrained, interior film. A celebrated playwright shines an illuminating light on no more than a sliver of a great man's life. A brilliant actor surpasses even himself and makes us see a celebrated figure in ways we hadn't anticipated. This is the power and the surprise of"Lincoln."
Directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president of the United States, "Lincoln" unfolds during the final four months of the chief executive's life as he focuses his energies on a dramatic struggle that has not previously loomed large in political mythology: his determination to get the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.
This narrow focus has paradoxically enabled us to see Lincoln whole in a way a more broad-ranging film might have been unable to match. It has also made for a movie whose pleasures are subtle ones, that knows how to reveal the considerable drama inherent in the overarching battle of big ideas over the amendment as well as the small-bore skirmishes of political strategy and the nitty-gritty scramble for congressional votes.
These things all begin, as thoughtful films invariably do, with an excellent script. A Pulitzer Prize-winner for "Angels in America," Kushner has always been adept at illuminating the interplay of the personal and the political. His literate screenplay, based on parts of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Lincoln," is smart, dramatic and confident of the value of what it has to say.
Kushner has worked with Spielberg before (he co-wrote the Oscar-nominated "Munich" script) and his writing seems to bring out a level of restraint in their productions. There is nothing bravura or overly emotional about Spielberg's direction here, but the impeccable filmmaking is no less impressive for being quiet and to the point. The director delivers selfless, pulled-back satisfactions: he's there in service of the script and the acting, to enhance the spoken word rather than burnish his reputation.
The key speaker, obviously, is Day-Lewis. No one needs to be told at this late date what a consummate actor he is, but even those used to the way he disappears into roles will be startled by the marvelously relaxed way he morphs into this character and simply becomes Lincoln. While his heroic qualities are visible when they're needed, Day-Lewis' Lincoln is a deeply human individual, stooped and weary after four years of civil war but endowed with a palpable largeness of spirit and a genuine sense of humor.
At ease in his own skin, Lincoln wears a shawl around the White House like he was born with it and is so prone to telling tales at every opportunity that his fed-up Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Bruce McGill) snaps in exasperation, "No, you're not going to tell a story. I can't bear to hear one."
Though Day-Lewis' work inevitably towers over "Lincoln," one of the remarkable things about this production is not only how consistently good the acting is across some 145 speaking roles but how much the actors have been cast both for ability and resemblance to their historical counterparts, from major players such as Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) and firebrand Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) down to minor characters like amendment opponent Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) and Lincoln's secretary John Nicolay (Jeremy Strong).
Working with his usual team of equals — cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter, editor Michael Kahn, costume designer Joanna Johnston and composer John Williams — Spielberg has paid particular attention to creating a realistic world for his characters to inhabit, seeping us in the period and seeing to it that the color scheme and the muted lighting enhance the film's naturalistic palette.
Care was taken with the physical details as well, especially the interior of the White House, where Lincoln's office was re-created with complete accuracy, and where the president interacts with his family, trying to placate his ever-emotional wife Mary (a convincing Sally Field), distraught after the death of their young son Willie, as well as oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is desperate to enlist in the Union Army against his parents' wishes.
The political core of "Lincoln" begins with the president's determination, much to the displeasure of close advisor Seward, to get the House to pass the 13th Amendment. Fearful that the previously enacted Emancipation Proclamation might not stand up to legal challenges, Lincoln gets surprisingly steely as he insists that this simply must be done if slavery is to be permanently eradicated. The problem is getting the votes.
To help make this happen, Seward brings in a trio of arm-twisters, the 1860s versions of today's lobbyists, who are charged by a president not shy about saying he is "clothed in immense power" to use any means necessary to round up the needed congressional votes. This trio, amusingly played byJohn HawkesJames Spader and Tim Blake Nelson, are as close to comic relief as "Lincoln" gets.
Because the stakes are so high, and because he turns out to be a master strategist, the president himself inevitably gets personally involved in playing politics. He deals with key leaders like Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook), a conservative Republican who is eager for peace talks with the South, and of course Jones' Stevens, an irascible, vitriolic abolitionist ("the meanest man in Congress" according to Roy Blount Jr.) who is just getting warmed up when he calls an opponent a "fatuous nincompoop."
One of the surprises and the pleasures of "Lincoln" is its portrait of the president as a man gifted at reconciling irreconcilable points of view, someone who wouldn't hesitate to play both ends against the middle and even stretch the truth in the service of the greater good.
Kushner has said that he wrote "Lincoln" because, upset at today's endemic lack of faith in governance, he wanted to tell a story that "shows that you can achieve miraculous, beautiful things through the democratic system." It's a lesson that couldn't be more timely, or more thoroughly dramatic.
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MPAA rating: PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
Running time: 2 hours, 29 minutes
Playing: In limited release