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Monday, December 14, 2009

Invictus (2009) - Drama

Invictus (2009) - The story of how Nelson Mandela embraced the South African Rugby team in their quest for the 1995 World Cup Championship. Clint Eastwood directed this story of how this great leader took the mostly white supported S.A. Springboks team, and made them a national focal point in South African reconciliation. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela as a wise patriarch teaching the youngsters around him in the art of forgiveness. Matt Damon is Francois Pienaar the captain of the team who is called on by Mandela to lead the underdog team through the competition. Damon's role seemed not particularly important in the movie, I mean I see how we are suppose to see his change of opinion of Mandela, but there is so little interaction between the two that it was hard to see this internal change take place. I think there could have been more overt racism on the team and it would have helped this task, instead we have complaining about doing rugby clinics and resistance to learning the new national anthem and that is it. In fact even the most racist character, Peinaar's father really pulled it insulting punches. It was like the movie was very conscious not to be a movie about racism.
Writer Anthony Peckham gives us a standard sports story of the Springboks fighting through and winning the 1995 Rugby World cup, but the slim screenplay whether cut later or designed this way barely focuses on the journey of the team but more on the strategy of Mandela. The team's story is the secondary story and is regulated to some fine slow motion rugby play and of course the big win against the heavily favored New Zealand team. I understand this decision and truly appreciate Mandela as a leader. As it was so well pointed out in expository dialog, the idea was not to take away the white minorities team but to embrace them as a majority. Mandela saw supporting the minority as vitally important in holding the country together in the post Apartheid world.

What I liked about this movie is the focus on Mandela, the man is a great leader in our time and the movie shows this. Through this story we see his greatness, how he is thinking in a different way than many people in his country and it really carries a wisdom, earned through 27 years as a political prisoner. The Rugby scenes were well done and you get a sense at what the game is about.

On the other side I was put off at times by the sappy music. It was a bit much. There was to be a parallel story between the teams journey and Mandela's agenda but I think it ended up being more about the man and less about the team. There were several places where I wondered whether things were cut. Mandela gives Pienaar the poem Invictus and tells him about how it helped him in his years in prison, then Pienaar talks about how on the bus to the games the guys are in their heads and then they play a song or something to get ready for the coming battle. It felt like they were leading us to a reading of the poem before the big game but nothing ever materialized. There were some scenes that touched upon Mandela's family conflict but they were just brushes with his family through his relationship with his daughter. His estranged wife was mentioned but not included and there was no follow through on the theme. I am not sure there are any Oscars in this film, but it has good entertainment value.

Overall the movie was entertaining and pleasing to watch. Spoiler South Africa did win the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and Mandela did indeed embrace the team. The story told here is decent if not fully realized. Go see for yourself.

Rating (7.5)


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may beFor my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Taken (2008) - Thiller

Taken (2008) - This Liam Neeson vehicle barrels forward at a breakneck pace without thought of whether or not it makes sense or not. It doesn't but that was not enough for me to poo poo this flick. It is an action movie and as such has to just get me onto the edge of my seat and then keep me there for a while. It accomplished that and so even though police are nonexistent in France, and this agent can act with impunity I was into the story. Neeson is a retired CIA operative who reluctantly allows his daughter from his failed marriage, to go off to France with a friend. Very quickly, approximately 3 hours after arriving the girls are abducted and sold into sex slavery. Neeson gets hot on the trail and tracks down and kills many people in the taught plot that leads to saving his daughter before she loses her virginity. This is it! Mostly the action is good and Neeson pulls off being the competent and dangerous agent. Maggie Grace is ridiculous pretending to be his 17 year old daughter. So obviously in her mid twenties I just do not accept the casting decision. There is no one bad guy which really is a shortcoming of the movie. It would have been more interesting to have a single evil bastard for Neeson to get in the end. Writer Luc Besson wrote one of my alltime favorite movies, "Leon, the Professional" but here things are more quick hit and the character development although present is really in the way. Overall though I was on the ride and it past the simple test of action movie.
Rating (5.7)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982) Musical

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982) - I went to see this movie on the big screen for the first time in over 30 years as part of a Pink Floyd night. Local Boston area rock radio station WAAF 107.3 sponsored a night of music and movies. First my sister and I went to see the Pink Floyd tribute band "The Machine" and then a midnight showing of the movie. I had never been to a tribute band concert and found myself very excited going in. The event was held in Foxboro MA at the Showcase Live restaurant, concert hall. We arrived early enough to get dinner seating and I have to say the food and service were good. It is also a benefit to have dinner there because then you have a place to sit if you choose to during the concert. Even the VIP booths were affordable. So after a good meal we were ready for some Floyd music. The band has a following and the place was not packed but pretty full. We listened as the band stuck to mostly "The Wall", "Dark Side of the Moon", and "Wish You Were Here". I found myself not enjoying it as much I I thought I would. I have seen Pink Floyd a few times and am a really big fan of the music. I thought I could just get into the songs and let myself forget it was not the real band playing them. Unfortunately I don't think the tribute band is for me. I was turned off by the slightly different sound of the instruments, the difference in voices, how the bass player was a bit too quick for some tunes, in all the whole thing did not feel Pink Floyd. This is probably just me, in fact everyone seemed to be having a good time in the room. I found myself not even wanting to look at the band, I was not there after all to see them. So I have mixed emotions about the band, they are all competent musicians but the cover experience just did not work for me.
The movie on the other hand was great to see on the big screen. A collage of images, animation, music and acting power through the story of Mr. Pink Floyd (Bob Geldof ) in his nervous breakdown and how he was raised added to this point in his history. Written by Floyd bassist Roger Waters it explores a mans life, from the fatherless child, overly criticized student, and popular musician who can't hold his marriage together, finally to drug abusing mental case. The album is brilliant and Director Alan Parker has created a long music video to go with it. The animation in a bit over done and on the nose, and the bouncing storyline does not always flow but my love for the music pulls me past these flaws into a state of blissful sounds and images.
Rating (6.3)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Red Cliff (Chi bi) (2008) - Drama

Red Cliff (Chi bi) (2008) - Written by John Woo and a host of others and directed by Woo, this historical story looks at the battle of Red Cliff. In this battle a smaller force defeated the ambitions of Prime Minister Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) of the Eastern Han dynasty during the Three Kingdoms era of China around 208 AD. In this battle the imperial army want to crush the southern warlords Sun Quan (Chen Chang) and Liu Bei (Yong You)and bring total control to the emperor who is controlled by Cao Cao. The Prime minister brings his massive fleet down river and the movie shows how the smaller southern army is able to win the battle. Done with flair and personality, Woo creates a cadre of characters who shine in this film. The southern warlords each have distinct personalities to play against the ruthlessness of the northern Prime Minister. Through there friendships individual skills are united to defeat the invading force. The final battle is a wonder to watch and Woo is an artist at this form of action. There is a secondary story of the wife of Sun Quan (Wei Zhao) and how the Prime minister loved her from the moment he saw her many years earlier that plays a part in his demise. Visually and musically this film hits all the right notes. I would have enjoyed a bit more character development for some of the secondary characters but see how this could have taken away from the primary story. I watched this with a couple people who are not real fans of this kind of movie but both came away saying they really enjoyed it. If you can read subtitles that at times were fast, you will enjoy this war epic.
Rating (7.2)