Movie Review: Lincoln (The One Movie that brought Tears to my Eyes)

Lincoln

I don’t cry in movies.  The only time I had to fight back tears during a movie was “The Last Samurai.”  There have been a few others where I’ve gotten close, most recently during “Les Miserables”; unless your heart is made of cold hard steel, you’re bound to get emotional during Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.”

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into “Lincoln”, Steven Spielberg’s latest film depicting President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th Amendment towards the end of the American Civil War.  The Amendment effectively abolishes slavery for all of the United States.

Little did I know, this would be the film that would bring a tear to my eye.

I will spare you the plot summary, and just say that it’s typical Spielberg:  crisp dialogue, smooth writing, flawless tone and atmosphere, and a fantastic huge ensemble cast (I kept on trying to tell my friend “hey this is the guy from “Mad Men” (Jared Harris) / “24” (Gregory Itzin)  / “Watchmen” (Jackie Earle Haley) / “Boardwalk Empire” (Michael Stuhlberg) !)  headed by the amazing Daniel Day Lewis.  I rooted for Hugh Jackman to win the best actor Oscar for his role in “Les Miserables” before watching “Lincoln”.  Sorry, Hugh.  This was Daniel’s year (again).  His portrayal of someone who is burdened by war, politics, family, and his vision of a country freed of slavery, is uncanny.  In the midst of so much adversity, we can see past his wearied aging figure and find undying optimism.

I want to label this film as ‘selectively brilliant’.  I have encountered a few people who said that they found the film boring, and didn’t know what went on.  But when I asked, they knew very little about American politics and the legacy of Lincoln.  Personally, I love history, but more importantly, I am fascinated by American politics.  So for me, having a little bit of knowledge of how American politics works today, the film connected with me on an emotional level.

The way in which the Republican party had to procure enough votes to secure passage of the 13th Amendment, plus the implications of its passage, was highlighted in a variety of ways.  We see the opposing parties yell at each other in Congress; we see the President’s African-American helper plead with him; we see turmoil within the President’s own party.  All of it built up to immerse the audience into feeling just how important it was, for Lincoln and for America, to pass that Amendment.  That is why, when the climax of the film concluded, I cheered with the Republican congressmen, and I cried with them.

I definitely believe that “Lincoln” should have won Best Picture (I’ve seen all of the nominees except “Life of Pi” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild”).  I loved “Argo”, but it didn’t make me cry!  But like I said, I especially love this film because of my passion for history and American politics, and I fear that many do not share the same sentiment.

Am I A Leader? Turns Out, it Depends

A recent article from Forbes magazine discusses why some people might think that they’d make good leaders where in fact they’re not.

The article lists out the reasons why some people are better suited to be leaders.  Recently, I’ve been pondering on this question myself, on whether or not I am a good leader.  I’d say that, over the course of my life so far,  I have had to assume leadership positions on a bit more occasions than the average person, although I certainly wouldn’t put myself within the top percentiles.

Ultimately, what I gathered from the article is that whether or not I’m a good leader is dependent on who I am leading and the type of activity / event in which I am involved.

Rather than paraphrasing, I’m going to reproduce the list below, and underneath each point, I will discuss how they relate to my own leadership via my own experiences.

1. You don’t get results: Real leaders perform – they get the job done – they consistently exceed expectations. No results = no leadership – it’s just that simple.

Aptly chosen as the first point, because without results, everything else is worthless.  This is immediately relative to what my main point is, it being that it depends on the activity.  For example, my passion lies in hosting events; I thrive on performing in front of an audience, especially when I am well prepared.  My passion is often reflected on my work, as the feedback on my performances have been overwhelmingly positive.

On the other hand, if I were handed a task where I’m less passionate, my results would reflect that.

2. You get results the wrong way: If the only way you can solve the deficit described in point #1 above is through chicanery or skullduggery you’re not a leader. The ends don’t justify the means. If you abuse your influence, don’t treat people well, or confuse manipulation with leadership, you may win a few battles, but you’ll lose the war. Optics over ethics never ends well, and being a jerk doesn’t make you a leader.

I don’t see much of an issue here.  As far as I can tell, those who have had to come under my leadership have been satisfied with how they were treated.  How do I know this? Well, if I’d been a jerk, they would’ve quit.

3. You don’t care: Indifference is a characteristic not well suited to leadership. You simply cannot be a leader if you don’t care about those you lead. The real test of any leader is whether or not those they lead are better off for being led by them.

Again, the point falls under my idea of how much I’m passionate about the subject affects how much I care about it.  For example, if I am have assumed the leadership position in a music band, I will try to the best of my abilities to help others with their music, whether if it is technique, or learning a new instrument.  If I care about the group and the cause, I’d gladly take the time to help others improve so that the group on a whole can improve faster.

4. You’re chasing a position and not a higher purpose: If you value self-interest above service beyond self you simply don’t understand the concept of leadership. Leadership is about caring about something beyond yourself, and leading others to a better place – even if it means you take a back seat, or end up with no seat at all. Power often comes with leadership, but it’s not what drives real leaders.

Along those same lines, I think that, for leaders who care about the cause and those under their leadership, sacrifice becomes a mute point, as they wouldn’t view it as sacrifice because they are helping to achieve a higher purpose.  When I perform well in hosting an event, I think about the brand that I represent, because often times, my actions set off a chain reaction; those impressed by my performance will spread the word, letting others know of the brand, and more people will come to this brand looking for the same high quality service.

5. You care more about making promises than keeping them:Leadership isn’t about your rhetoric; it’s about your actions. Leadership might begin with vision casting, but it’s delivering the vision that will ultimately determine your success as a leader.

6. You put people in boxes: Stop telling people why they can’t do something and show them how they can. Leaders don’t put people in boxes, it’s their obligation to free them from boxes. True leadership is about helping people reach places they didn’t know they could go.

This is perhaps the hardest thing to do as a leader from my experiences.  As a leader, you know, after a short period of observing, what the person is capable of.  As a result, your natural instinct would be to categorize them according to their abilities, or how far you think their abilities go.  You make judgments about their strengths and weaknesses, and allocate tasks accordingly.  Thus, it becomes difficult to free them out of their boxes, for doing so you run the risk of achieving sub-par results.

It is up to the leader to assess the importance of achieving immediate results versus freeing team members from their boxes, as the latter would help the group improve in the long run.

7. You follow the rules instead of breaking them: Status quo is the great enemy of leadership. Leadership is nothing if not understanding the need for change, and then possessing the ability to deliver it.

A little surprised that more emphasis was not placed on this point.  Resistance to change is the worst quality a leader could have.  A leader needs to adapt in order for progress to be made.

Having said that, there’s a fine line between being ambitious (adventurous, even) and reckless.  Change for the sake of change achieves nothing, either.

8. You churn talent instead of retain it: Real leadership serves as a talent magnet – not a talent repellent. If you can’t acquire talent, can’t develop talent, or can’t retain talent you are not a leader.

This works in tandem with points 3, 4, and 6.  If you care about the cause and those you are working with, naturally, you will try to find those who are equally passionate, and retain those who you believe can contribute the cause’s success.  If you are a talent repellent, then it is obvious that you are doing something wrong.  I have not had to lead groups on such a scale where this has really come into play, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

9. You take credit instead of giving it: True leadership isn’t found seeking the spotlight, but seeking to shine the spotlight on others. The best leaders only use “I” when accepting responsibility for failures. Likewise, they are quick to use “we” when referring to successes.

Anyone who has participated in organized sports or music knows the importance of this.  Unlike in an office, where credit is often distorted, team sports and music bands display the importance of team work before our eyes.

A quarterback in football is quick to compliment his offensive line for keeping the defense off his back and buying him time to make a good pass.  The singer of a band is quick to thank his drummer / bassist for keeping the beat and being the stable of the group.

10. You care about process more than people: But for the people there is no platform. Without the people you have nothing to lead. When you place things above the people you lead you have failed as a leader.

Ultimately, a cause is made up by people, for people.  It is through people, that the process exists.  Good process is created through good people management and good teamwork between people.  So if the process takes precedent, then the leader is committing a serious error.

Society’s ‘Elites’ and My Inner Bane

Those of you who have read my review on “The Dark Knight Rises” will know that I am not the biggest fan of the film.  Having said that, I have, not entirely on my on will, gone to see it a second time at the theater.  Proving the fact that when I saw the film the first time it was a 12:30 pm show had no effect on my view on it (as that’s quite early in the day for me), I felt the same after the second viewing.  The film still felt clunky, uneven, and tainted with illogicalities in the plot. I did, however, gain some new perspective, not about the messages and themes that the film expressed, but on a rather personal basis.  It has to do with the allure, desire, insanity, and chaos, that money, and the idea of money, brings to society.

This train of thought spawned from a conversation in the film between John Daggett and Bane.  Daggett is a billionaire investor who financially backed Bane’s operations and sought to take over Wayne Enterprises.  After (small spoilers) Daggett realized that he failed to become head of the Wayne board, he confronted Bane, yelling at him to the point where it was obvious that he had forgotten his place.  When Bane revealed a glimpse of his madness on Daggett, the conversation went as follows:

Daggett:  “I gave you a lot of money.”

Bane: “And that gives you power over me?”

What happened next isn’t really relevant to the discussion at hand.  This little verbal exchange, and the subsequent chaos that Bane laid upon Gotham and its privileged class, provided me with a fresh basket of food for thought.

Coincidentally, recently, I have been presented with the opportunity to become a part of this elite class of society, where money is in the blood and veins of its very own infrastructure.  I found myself indulging in the same things that the privileged folks in Gotham indulged in.  Luxury. Whenever I am at a place of glorious opulence I found myself feeling like I’m in a different world, somehow establishing the dynamic of ‘us’ and ‘them’, because of where I was and what that meant.

We are in a society where money rules.  Like it or not, capitalism is the way of the world right now, and as long as it remains so, society will always be driven by the accumulation of wealth.  Now, there are arguments both ways on whether if it’s a good or a bad thing.  Some might even argue that it’s neither good nor bad, that it’s just the way of the world and doesn’t affect people on a personal basis (who they ‘are’, their morals, etc).  I happen to believe that personal wealth and the accumulation of wealth significantly influences a person’s character, demeanor, and morals beliefs.

Some people are born into well-off families and thus might have an easier path towards accumulating wealth, others might have to fight a lot harder to gain the same amount of wealth.  Everyone in society today have to make decisions involving money, whether if it’s spending it, betting it, investing it, burning it… and seeing Bane utter those words reminded me that we should be the ones in control of money, not vice versa.

It is perhaps unclear though, Bane’s specific targeting of society’s affluent.  Was he waging war against Gotham because of the class inequality? Is this what he and the League of Shadows fought for, albeit through extremist means?

I might not be the excommunicated leader of the League of Shadows who is looking to terrorize a city, send it into anarchy, and tear down the upper class.  The method with which I strive to combat the corruption of money is much more introspective.  When I am faced with thematic decisions in life where money might be a factor, everything from work, education, even relationships… I need to conjure up my inner Bane: Stay true to myself, and don’t let money control me.

I’m back…. Again. But not just about politics this time!

Hi all,

Although I know for a fact that not many people read my blog, I would still like to let you all know that, after taking a sudden and unforeseen break from blogging, the theme of this blog will change to something more general and all-encompassing.  Here’s why:

After immersing myself in the world of politics (mostly American politics) for a while, I had grown tired and cynical, to the point where I no longer was interested in the political issues of the day.  The kind of stalemate the come about as a result of pure power struggles while both the Republican and the Democratic party claim to be acting in the interests of the people have become unbearable.

In fact, my taking a break from reading up on politics has added to my admiration for those who dive into it everyday; all the cable news hosts, political pundits, not to mention the politicians.  I don’t know how they do it.  Perhaps it’s their passion for politics that keeps them going.

Yes, the Democrats will have to fight.  Yes, the Obama campaign is being out-raised in the past few months. But I’m not quite convinced that the wealth folks on the liberal side are willing to risk losing this election because of the issue of money.  Individuals such as George Soros will keep on stepping it up, and go toe to toe with the Koch brothers.

So yea, that’s enough politics for today.  What I wanted to say is, from now on, in addition to the political talks and movie reviews that I’ll still be doing, I will also be writing on numerous topics, such as my life experiences, philosophy (yes! fascinating subject), and others.

Writing is still my passion.  I will never give it up.  Unfortunately, over the past month or so, various things have kept me from firing away at the keyboard.  But now that things have calmed down, I will return to being a… uh… blogger!

Cheers

The Forgotten Turmoil On Ivory Coast

(Written Before April 11)
As the war in Libya continues (sadly, that is what it has become), and unrest throughout the Middle East and Africa continues to flare up (notably in Syria and continuing in Egypt), the significant developments on this small West-African country has seldom been mentioned.

Two of the most detrimental effects as a result of military conflicts within a country are the crippling of the country’s economy and quality of life of its people, the latter of which often becomes the determining factor of which side the civilians stands with. Gbagbo’s refusal to not step down and instead launch a military campaign against Ouattara and the UN brought the nation to its knees; European-owned firms, stores, and factories have either shut down or suspended operations for fear of being attacked and losing assets. This meant that local workers lost their jobs and their salaries, and also their ability to feed their families and themselves.

As the New York Times reported, “dozens of women marched in a tight pack on Tuesday morning through the mostly pro-Ouattara Koumassi neighborhood waving leafy branches and chanting “We want peace!” — one of a number of spontaneous anti-Gbagbo demonstrations here in recent days.” These women, long with many men and children, couldn’t sleep, and haven’t eaten for some time. It never ceases to amaze me – someone who was born and raised in a Westernized world where food is always available – the energy, courage and sheer determination that a population can conjure when they are desperate. Dear Mr. Gbago: there is no better way to infuriate the people of a country than to starve them.

In the period leading up to Sunday Mr. Gbagbo’s forces gained some military grounds, recapturing several strategic neighborhoods in central Abijan and even lobbed shells at the residence of the French ambassador (French troops also exchanged heavy machine gun fire during a helicopter rescue of the Japanese ambassador and his staff). This in my mind, brings into serious question the expertise and conduct of Gbagbo’s forces. Unless UN or French troops were located near the residence, Gbagbo had no reason to attack it, as doing so would have been a blatant provocation that begs for retaliation.

It has now become quite obvious that Gbagbo will not regain the presidency, has lost all legitimacy, and has now commenced a long, drawn-out resistance that is rapidly sending the country into chaos. But, in contrast to some assertions that Mr. Gbagbo’s intention might well be to “make the country absolutely ungovernable”, I think Mr. Gbagbo follows a more generic historical pattern laid out my previous dictators, whereby the dictators have lost touch with reality and believe that only they are suitable to run their respective countries. It is a mixture of ego, arrogance, and reluctance to give up power, that drives men like Gbagbo and Hosni Mubarak to keep going despite having seemingly lost all power.

Desperately Seeking Their Own Rove: Democrats Try Catching GOP In Outside Money Chase

The Democrats are finding their ‘Karl Rove’, the famous Bush-era Republican strategist and fund-raising machine.

Read the HuffPost article here. In essence it talks about how the Republicans have gotten a head start in raising money for the upcoming election in 2012 and are taking full advantage of the new laws allowing unlimited amounts of campaign contributions from any one donor.

Somebody get Mark Zuckerberg to donate a tenth of his 13.5 billion net worth… oh wait, the FCC and the Obama administra­tion are already doing everything he prefers.

A Little Faith in Obama’s Vision, Please?


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
It’s really sad to see the President of the United States having to defend himself against Tea Party / Birther / Exotic / Socialist allegations while he has to deal with things such as world peace (e.g. facilitating the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, containing an unpredictable Iran, etc.), eliminating poverty (in the world as well as in the United States), saving the middle class, providing all Americans with health care, bettering the education system, etc. The man has a vision and wants to get on with materializing it, but he’s being bogged down by petty politics.

What Obama needs to say to the apathetic voters, democrats included, is that the biggest reason why they need to vote for the Dems in the coming elections is to prevent the Republicans from taking power.

America cannot afford to let the GOP take back any part of Congress, or else every single piece of legislation would be stuck and beat until it’s dead, and government would get nothing done. America also cannot let the Republicans win because they are a party whose platform makes almost no sense at all, and would do the country much more harm than good. Finally, the Democrats need to vote to keep the GOP out because the Republicans would lead the country backwards, to more of what we had with the Bush administration.