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PICTURES FROM THE FRINGE

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Salvador Litvak
Cast:
Tom Amandes, Lea Coco, Penelope Ann Miller, Bruce Davison, Creed Bratton, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Josh Stamberg
Writing Credits:
Nina Davidovich, Salvador Litvak

Synopsis:
Based on the true story of Abraham Lincoln (Tom Amandes) and his close friend, Ward Hill Lamon (Lea Coco), Saving Lincoln combines elements of theater and cinema to create a new visual world within vintage Civil War photographs. When the first assassination attempt occurs on the way to Washington in 1861, banjo-playing, pistol-wielding Lamon appoints himself Lincoln's bodyguard. From this unique perspective, Lamon witnesses every aspect of Lincoln's fiery trial as Commander-in-Chief, soothes his friend's tormented soul, and saves him from repeated attempts on his life. Lamon is away on a mission when Lincoln is killed, yet it is Lamon who redefines that tragic event in a surprising and uplifting manner. Saving Lincoln has been called "a new and different kind of cinematic experiencetruly fascinating" (Film Journal International), as well as "brave, incisive, brilliant and entirely factual" (Harold Holzer, Lincoln author and authority).

Box Office:
Budget
$700 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $34.95
Release Date: 6/18/2013

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Salvador Litvak and Writer Nina Davidovich Litvak
• “The Making of a CineCollage Film” Featurette
• “Acting in a Green Screen World” Featurette
• “The Music of Saving Lincoln” Featurette
• Civil War Photo Gallery
• Trailer


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Saving Lincoln [Blu-Ray] (2013)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 27, 2013)

As long as we remain firmly within the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, I suspect we’ll continue to receive an abundance of related projects. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln will probably remain the big kahuna of such releases, but it certainly doesn’t stand alone.

Into the breach steps 2013’s Saving Lincoln, a docudrama with a twist, as it uses a technique its director calls “CineCollage”. This means the film features historical photos as the greenscreened backdrop for live actors. This creates an unusual method and one that piqued my interest.

Saving opens after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (Tom Amandes). Authorities question Ward Hill Lamon (Lea Coco), Lincoln’s old friend and bodyguard. From there we launch into flashback and see how Lincoln and Lamon met as well as the development of their relationship. We follow Lincoln’s career and how Lamon made himself chief protector, all as we work toward that fateful April 1865 day.

Going into Saving, the major question relates to the use of the “CineCollage” techniques. While the notion that historical photos would create the backdrop for live actors sounds intriguing, it also boasts much potential to backfire. If the movie doesn’t execute that integration in a convincing manner, it becomes tough for it to succeed.

Much of Saving does flop, and while I can’t entirely blame the “CineCollage” method, it deserves some of the responsibility. The film came with a low budget and it lacked the effects savvy to execute the integration of live action and green screen in a satisfying manner.

I guess the viewer eventually becomes semi-accustomed to the awkwardness of the visuals, but they always grate to at least a moderate degree, and they can often look worse than that. It becomes next to impossible to forget that the actors stood in front of green screened elements, as they never mesh. These effects aren’t just mediocre; they’re overtly bad and often look like what you’d expect from community access cable. I can’t be the only one who flashes back to Wayne’s World in the face of these clumsy visuals.

Even without the awkward green screen, however, Saving hits snarls. Across the board, the movie comes with weak acting. It actually boasts a decent cast, as we get some recognizable names like Penelope Ann Miller and Bruce Davison. In addition, lead actors Amandes and Coco may not be well known, but a look at IMDB shows that they’ve maintained good careers in notable projects.

Unfortunately, no one here – well-or-little-known – can deliver a performance above the level of “C-grade”. Amandes comes as a particular disappointment, for he provides a turn that never vaguely “feels like Lincoln”.

I recognize that no one alive today knows what Lincoln was really like; we’ve gotten multiple interpretations but given the absence of any recordings, we can’t be sure. However, we have a decent idea, one that became particularly refined with Daniel Day Lewis’s much-praised work in Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Amandes doesn’t connect to any of these prior interpretations, as he gives us Lincoln as Middle American mope. Even if I ignore Lincoln’s lack of accent – which seems weird, as one would assume the president would bear some vocal remnant of his Kentucky upbringing – Amandes fails to bring any charm to the character. All reports tell us that Lincoln boasted remarkable charisma but Amandes can’t provide any signs of those talents. He seems peevish and lacks any personality to fit the role.

The story itself comes with potential, as the notion of a docudrama focused on threats to Lincoln’s safety and told from Lamon’s POV could be interesting. And it does occasionally give us some intriguing insights, but those don’t occur with regularity.

Instead, the movie usually comes as a basic “greatest hits” reel of Lincoln’s life and accomplishments. The Lamon side offers periodic deviations from this template, but not enough to make Saving a real departure from the norm.

In a way, that might be a relief, as I’d regard Saving as a bigger disappointment if a good script went for naught. Given the combination of problems on display, though, the absence of much “fresh” material just gets thrown on the pile. This is just too amateurish an effort to succeed.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Saving Lincoln appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was a watchable presentation but not one without concerns.

Truthfully, I suspect most of the issues stemmed from the original photography, and a lot probably came from the massive use of green screen. Sharpness was usually fine, as the majority of the flick showed fairly good definition. However, more than a few soft shots occurred, so delineation tended to be inconsistent. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes failed to appear I also didn’t see any print flaws.

To fit the Civil War-era photos used as backdrops, the film went mostly monochromatic. This meant it was essentially black and white with a tinge of sepia. The tones failed to show much depth; even given the absence of much color, I thought the hues looked a bit drab. Blacks were acceptably dark but not especially full, and shadows looked okay; they didn’t seem too murky but they weren’t especially concise, either. This was a decent image and no better.

Similar thoughts greeted the lackluster Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Saving Lincoln. Quality tended to be erratic, especially in terms of speech. Dialogue was always intelligible but could be rather edgy at times. Music showed decent pep, and effects offered fairly good range and impact, at least.

The soundfield was fair to good. Music showed nice stereo spread, and the mix opened up in a moderate manner at times. The occasional war sequence used the five speakers in a fairly satisfying way, though not in an especially involving manner; much of the mix stayed restrained. Other than the edgy speech, nothing here was bad, but I couldn’t find much to impress, either.

Despite the film’s low profile, the disc comes with a decent array of extras. We open with an audio commentary from writer/director Salvador Litvak and writer Nina Davidovich Litvak. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story/characters, historical elements, cast and performances, the “CineCollage” method, and a few other areas.

Though we learn a little about the production, the chat mostly focuses on a discussion of the facts behind the tale. In that regard, it’s a pretty good expansion on what we see in the film, though the Litvaks disagree enough to make me wonder who has the correct information. (I’m betting on Nina, as she seems more believable; Salvador tends toward hyperbole at times and she brings him back to earth.) I’d have liked to know more about movie-making challenges, but this is still an enhoyable chat.

Three featurettes follow. The Making of a CineCollage Film runs four minutes, 25 seconds and gives us “before and after” shots that depict the movie’s effects. This allows us to see the settings in which the actors performed pre-integration with the old photos – sort of. The program lacks comments, which makes it a bit less valuable, and the visuals don’t offer a particularly concise view of the process. I like featurettes that let us view effects progressions, but this one’s not especially well-done.

Acting in a Green Screen World goes for one minute, 51 seconds as it comes with comments from VFX supervisor Daniel Land and actors Tom Amandes, Adam Croasdell, Lea Coco, and Penelope Ann Miller. They tell us a little about what it’s like to act in front of green screens – very little, unfortunately, as we don’t learn much in this extremely short program.

For the final featurette, we get the nine-minute, seven-second The Music of Saving Lincoln. It delivers comments from Salvador Litvak, composer Mark Adler and music director Willie Aron as they discuss the film’s score and songs. They give us a decent look at the subject.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a Civil War Photo Gallery. It shows 68 frames, though not 68 pictures; the collection often zooms in for details of individual images. This becomes a nice array of photos, and I appreciate the captions that inform us about them.

While the notion of actors in front of Civil War photo backdrops sounds vaguely intriguing, the result flops. Saving Lincoln suffers from bad visual effects, stiff acting and other problems, all of which add up to an unsatisfying product. The Blu-ray offers acceptable but lackluster picture and audio along with a few supplements highlighted by a mostly interesting commentary. I admire the intentions behind Saving but the final result is an amateurish dud.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 3
25:
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02:
11:
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main