Two lives, two very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALD

TO­DAY’S col­umn deals with two week­end of­fer­ings that would fit nicely into a cat­e­gory called “sort-of doc­u­men­taries” — one be­cause it’s more of a pro­mo­tional video than an in-depth ex­am­i­na­tion, and the other be­cause it de­lib­er­ately strad­dles the line be­tween doc­u­men­tary and drama.

First up is the HBO fea­ture Bey­oncé: Life Is But a Dream, which airs tonight on HBO Canada (check list­ings for times). A quick look at the cred­its of this 90-minute film tells you pretty much all you need to know: Bey­oncé is the pro­ducer; Bey­oncé is co-writer; Bey­oncé is co-di­rec­tor.

In other words, what you’re go­ing to learn about Bey­oncé is noth­ing more or less than ex­actly what Bey­oncé wants you to know.

And while the care­fully as­sem­bled col­lec­tion of in­ter­views, we­b­cam con­fes­sional mo­ments and per­for­mance clips tries its best to cre­ate the feel­ing of in­ti­macy and can­dour, the end re­sult is a filmic ex­er­cise whose mes­sage seems metic­u­lously man­aged.

Even the tim­ing of its re­lease — on the heels of her Su­per Bowl half­time per­for­mance, and just in time to give a pro­mo­tional push to her new CD and about-to-launch world tour — is de­lib­er­ate.

There’s no ques­tion that Life Is But a Dream will ac­com­plish ex­actly what it’s in­tended to do (thrilling die-hard fans while driv­ing com­merce), but view­ers ex­pect­ing a thor­ough and/or balanced pro­file will be left want­ing.

The film draws heav­ily on Bey­oncé’s per­sonal ar­chives, of­fer­ing vol­umes of home-movie footage from her child­hood and teen years, and also re­veals the artist’s af­fec­tion for com­mit­ting her thoughts to we­b­cam-di­ary en­tries. Th­ese up-close, grainy se­quences fea­tur­ing a mostly makeup-free Knowles do fea­ture a few rev­e­la­tions, such as her thoughts about part­ing ways with her fa­ther as man­ager and her re­flec­tion, upon be­com­ing preg­nant, on hav­ing lost an ear­lier child to mis­car­riage.

Be­yond that, how­ever, Life Is But a Dream ad­heres closely to its ca­reer­boost­ing mes­sage, por­tray­ing Bey­oncé as a woman who is em­phat­i­cally in charge of her life and busi­ness and

Pro­duced, co-writ­ten and co-di­rected by Bey­oncé Knowles Tonight, check list­ings for times HBO Canada

out of five

Nar­rated by Tom Hanks; star­ring Billy Camp­bell and Jesse John­son Sun­day at 9 p.m. Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Chan­nel

out of five dream­ily in love with her hus­band.

The doc­u­men­tary also features back­stage footage and some stun­ning per­for­mance clips, which, for her fans, will make the whole ex­er­cise more than worth­while.

All told, there’s a lot to like in Life Is But a Dream; it’s what isn’t in it that’s a bit dis­ap­point­ing.

Hanks, a lot: Tom Hanks is the most prom­i­nent per­former in the Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Chan­nel fea­ture Killing Lin­coln, but he isn’t play­ing the doomed pres­i­dent and he isn’t por­tray­ing the ac­tor who shot him.

In fact, Hanks isn’t any­where in the act­ing cred­its for this uniquely con­structed study of the pres­i­den­tial as­sas­si­na­tion. In­stead, he serves as the film’s nar­ra­tor, pro­vid­ing (of­ten on­cam­era) his­tor­i­cal de­tails and scenecon­nect­ing time­line in­for­ma­tion as the events lead­ing up to and fol­low­ing the shoot­ing are dra­ma­tized.

It’s an odd but ef­fec­tive way of telling the story. Killing Lin­coln, which airs Sun­day at 9 p.m. on Na­tional Ge­o­graphic, falls some­where be­tween doc­u­men­tary and drama, with Hanks’s ca­su­ally pro­fes­so­rial con­tri­bu­tions play­ing a cru­cial role in con­nect­ing and driv­ing for­ward the film’s numer­ous scripted scenes.

Billy Camp­bell ( The Killing, Once and Again) is ad­e­quate as a rather dead­pan Lin­coln (and really, he stood no chance of be­ing lauded for his work with Daniel Day-Lewis’s Os­car-wor­thy alternative still grac­ing big screens). New­comer Jesse John­son, how­ever, gives an at­ten­tion-grab­bing per­for­mance as ac­tor-turned-assassin John Wilkes Booth.

In most short­hand his­tor­i­cal rec­ol­lec­tions, Booth has been dis­missed as a failed ac­tor who com­mit­ted an act of mad­ness. In this ver­sion, based on the like-ti­tled book by Fox News per­sonal- ity Bill O’Reilly, Booth is shown as a tal­ented ac­tor and thought­ful (though trag­i­cally mis­guided) po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist who was con­vinced that his ac­tion would free the South from the de­struc­tive grip of a tyrant.

Of course, Booth was wrong; even the lead­ers of the de­feated Con­fed­er­ate army de­clared Booth’s deadly at- tack to be one of the worst things that could have hap­pened to the South.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing and thought­ful in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a com­plex story. And Hanks plays a big part in mak­ing it palat­able.

HBO

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