Invictus

Going to see Invictus made me realize that the onslaught of  big Oscar players had begun. Know this upfront, I am a big Clint Eastwood fan and in general consider his work absolutely great. Of course how can you not with a track record of Mystic River, Unforgiven, Letters From Iwo Jima, and last years Gran Torino just to name a few.

This film begins just as eventual South African President Nelson Mandela is elected. The first portion of the movie deals with the taking of office and setting the stage explaining and understanding the problems of South Africa. The Nations Rugby team isn’t playing all that well, and viewed by the nations black population as a sign of apartheid. So literally the home team was being booed every time out. Mandela decides to use the Rugby team and it’s entrance into the world cup to begin to heal the racial hatred that exists in his country, and everything culminates in the finals match against an unbeatable New Zealand team.

Well, what was my take on the movie? Well, let me say, this is a very entertaining film, and I was never bored with it, but to my disappointment I can’t say that I think this is a Best Picture caliber film. It almost seemed that there was a struggle of what type of film this was, whether it is a political film or an inspiring sports film. With not having a true direction, neither sports or political story were told in enough detail or depth. At times I was wanting more from the political side, but during the second half when the Springbok Rugby team was in the forefront, I felt like I had missed out on character development and the sport of rugby. The only character that was developed at all, was of course the Matt Damon (Bourne Supremacy, Good Will Hunting) Francois Pienaar. I am a big sports fan and know some basic rules about rugby, but when it came to the final match against New Zealand, I wanted to know more details about how the game is played, and extra character development would have helped in in caring and cheering for them that much more in the end. I really wanted Best Picture material from this film and it didn’t quite get that high.

As far as performances, Nelson Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven). Of course he does a good job playing the character and does everything necessary for the film, but having such high standards for him, this isn’t the best performance by him. Matt Damon also, is adequate for the role, but doesn’t really bring much to the table. Don’t get me wrong, they are not terrible at all, just nothing that si jumping off the screen screaming Oscar.

I normally wouldn’t make to much of a comment about music unless it moved me one way or another. I think Mr. Eastwood as a director should keep more of an open mind when it comes to the score of a film, and realize that his Malpaso piano “interludes” and solo horns don’t work for every film or in the same way it worked for Unforgiven and Gran Torino. You would think that a film about South Africa, you wouldn’t have music that was poignant and soft. Although there were poignant and touching spots in the film, overall I don’t think his music worked well at all. The only point where you hear anything bold was when the Springbok team goes for the 6am run. I definitely would have prefered a soundtrack a bit more primal or native sounding.

Ok, back on a good note. Would I recommend this film to friends, yes, absolutely. It really is an enjoyable film, especially the last 45 minutes when the main focus seems to shift from politics to the Springbok rugby team. It is a feel good, uplifting film that can be enjoyed by all.

The Birdcage

“We are family….”

The Birdcage is a remake of the French classic, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, and hopefully will be become a comedy classic all its own. Armand and Albert are a gay couple running a night club in Miami, and Armand finds out his son is getting married. It just so happens he is getting married to an ultra-conservative Senator’s daughter. The Senator is in search of some good PR as his political companion was found dead with a minor prostitute. A wholesome family wedding seems to be the Senators answer for the media, and Val, the straight son, is worried about the Senator meeting his gay parents. Hence the attempt at a transformation to be a straight couple, complete with redecorating their home and changing the way they act…and finally the dinner with the parents.

I have heard a few complaints that all the characters are stereotypical and over the top. Yes, they are. But this film works for that very reason. It is not a film that is begging to be taken to seriously. Even though over the top, the characters are well-developed and likable. Robin Williams (Best supporting Actor Good Will Hunting, The Night Listener, One Hour Photo) give s a spot on performance as Armand and Nathan Lane (The Lion King, Nicholas Nickleby) is perfect as Armand’s mate and star of the Birdcage nightly drag queen show, Starina! Gene Hackman (Best Actor The French Connection, Unforgiven) is a nice casting choice for the conservative senator. The final scene with Gene Hackman dressed in drag and attempting to sing We Are Family, is worth the price of a ticket, or a rental in this case. Ok, since we are talking about performances, by the show stealer is Hank Azaria (Run Fatboy Run, Along Came Polly) who plays the very feminine butler Agador. He nails his performance right on the head. If he is in the scene, he is stealing it! Just a wonderfully funny performance!

Overall, I would highly recommend this film. It has many laugh out loud moments and truly priceless scenes. Mike Nichols (Charlie Wilson’s War, Closer) does a wonderful job of directing this talented cast and keeps this a very colorful and bright film. Visually and emotionally. If you haven’t seen it, do so! As for me, I’ll watch it again, probably for the 15th time.

Gran Torino

Gran Torino

Walt Kowalski’s wife has┬ájust passed away, and he is the lone white person in a neighborhood of Asian people. Walt, having served in the Korean war, you can imagine some of the racist feelings he has. While defending his property, he is viewed by the families in the neighborhood as saving Thao’s life. Living next door to Thao, Walt has the services of Thao for a week as Thao works for him as a favor. Friendships and relationships grow from there, and Walt in the end has some interesting choices to make. (Not giving too much away here…..you need to see it yourself!)

Walt Kowaslki is played marvelously by Clint Eastwood (Bridges of Madison County, Unforgiven). In fact I was rather disappointed that he did not receive a Best Actor nomination for this his role. Eastwood playing a hard nosed war veteran, and lets the racial cliches and slang fly like it is everyday conversation, believe it or not, adds a touch of humor in the role. You begin to realize he actually has a good heart , and the way he talks…is well…just that, the way he talks. The few that get to know him, don’t seem to mind the talk and it really works for the film when they role with it, especially with Su next Door. “Get me another beer, Dragon Lady! This one’s running on empty.”

I just can’t say enough good things about this film. In fact, in my eyes, this was the Best Picture of 2008, and a shame it didn’t even get nominated. It is a wonderful story and a great piece of film making. Seeing the trailer for the first time, I was unsure of the film, since it looked like an aged Dirty Harry movie. Don’t let that stop you from seeing it. This film will make you laugh, cry, and think. It offers so much on every front. This one is a must see for sure!!!