Random Factoid #180

24 01 2010

In school, it takes me forever to read Spanish literature.

In Argentina, I read a four page article about Matt Damon and the making of “Invictus” in less than 15 minutes.

It’s amazing how easy it is to read something you are interested in.

REVIEW: Invictus

10 01 2010

Now that the page has turned for the first decade of the new millennium, it can safely be said that Clint Eastwood was one of its definitive filmmakers. His final directorial venture of the era, “Invictus,” tops off a nearly immaculate resumé. While it doesn’t rank with “Mystic River” or “Changeling,” it is a moving portrait of a country caught at a very crucial stage in its history. Despite what the poster would have you believe, this is not a movie about Nelson Mandela, nor is it about the South African rugby team. It is about the triumph of virtue over hatred, and “Invictus” is a truly spirited and fascinating film because of this focus.

The film mostly follows Mandela (Morgan Freeman), starting from his first day as president of South Africa. He faced large racial divisions and dissent among his countrymen, and his decisions were crucial to bring the nation to unity. Rather than eradicate all vestiges of the hateful Apartheid era, he tries to use them as a rallying point, and this surprises and even alienates certain members of his staff. Included in this plan is the revitalization of the Springboks rugby team, the green and gold previously seen as an emblem of white supremacy, and the winning of the 1995 World Cup being held in South Africa. Mandela takes a particular interest in the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), a man who believes has the qualities necessary to lead a team to greatness. It’s an inspirational sports movie, so the math to get the final product isn’t hard. Despite the occasional narrative slowdown, Eastwood manages to keep us very absorbed in the story.

A large part of the movie is dedicated to the racial tension among Mandela’s security. Many detractors point this out as a flaw in the movie, but I found the subplot to be a very nice illustration of the themes Eastwood wished to highlight. The whites and the blacks in the detail initially butt heads, yet they find common ground in their desire to protect the man with the power to change the world. It is particularly rousing to see them playing rugby together towards the end of the movie, and little moments like these are what makes Eastwood’s value of the human spirit shine.

Morgan Freeman is remarkable as Mandela, and it is a performance that reminds us why he has such a revered status among actors. It’s tough to play someone who is as well-known as the ex-President, and he pulls it off with endearment. Freeman is always soft and gentle, but we never doubt that he means business. There is no stand-out powerhouse scene for him because Mandela kept his cool at all times, so it is only through slight but powerful shifts in tone that he communicates the feeling. Damon also projects his authority, although a little bit more sternly. No remnants are left of his blubber from the “The Informant!,” and we not only buy him as a rugby player but as a commanding presence on the field. The urgency with which he sets out to transform rugby into something more than just a game for his team is played with an ardent and admirable intensity. From corporate drone to triumphant athlete, 2009 has reminded us that Damon is one of the most versatile working actors, constantly working to improve his craft.

Eastwood handles the rugby fairly well, and he manages to make it compelling even though most Americans (including myself) had no idea what was happening. Although it may not be as exhilarating as watching a climactic football game, we see the significance of the game, which is what really matters. More importantly, we see the game as merely symbolic of the progress made by a country who sought to overcome hatred. “Invictus” is more than a history lesson, it is a depiction of two fine leaders using their example to brighten the future. A- /

Oscar Moment: National Board of Review Winners

3 12 2009

The first big awards of the season are here!  Below are the winners of the National Board of Review’s 2009 awards.

Best Picture: Up in the Air

Top 10 List (does not include the winner of Best Picture):

An Education
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Where the Wild Things Are

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Invictus

Best Actor: (tie) George Clooney, Up in the Air and Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, An Education

Best Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Best Supporting Actress: Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air

Best Original Screenplay: A Serious Man

Best Animated Film: Up

Best Documentary Film: The Cove

Best Ensemble: It’s Complicated

Breakthrough Male Performance: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Breakthrough Female Performance: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

(For a full list of winners, see the National Board of Review’s release on their official website.)

Now here’s some more in-depth analysis on the results.

Read the rest of this entry »

What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oscar Moment: “Invictus”

10 11 2009

Every year, one movie looks so impressive on paper that it is a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the year that it is not only a slam dunk to be a nominee, but also the assume winner of Best Picture.  I think I speak for most pundits when I say that “Invictus” is that movie from 2009.  When you mix one of the Academy’s favorite directors, Clint Eastwood, with two highly respected actors, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, not to mention a true inspirational story involving a beloved humanist, Nelson Mandela, it seems like simple math that these add up to Oscar gold.

But let’s look at the movies in a comparable position to “Invictus” from the past few years:

  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was nominated for 13 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay.  However, its three victories came only from its technical merit.
  • “Atonement” was nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Screenplay, and those were a surprise due to a fair level of disappointment that met the film upon its release.  It ended up walking away with a statue for Best Score.
  • “Dreamgirls” was nominated for 8 Oscars in 6 categories (3 nominations came from Best Song), but the film surprisingly was omitted from many major categories including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay.  It ended up with two awards, Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson and Best Sound Mixing.
  • “Munich” was able to ride its assumed esteem into nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, but it did not cash in on any of its nominations.

The only real conclusion that can be drawn from those results is that having sky-high expectations can often yield unfavorable results.  If people expect something amazing, it is all the easier to underwhelm.  So the only question that remains is which awards season path “Invictus” will tread – the extremely disappointing “Dreamgirls,” the mildly rewarding “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” or perhaps it will even capitalize on its status and turn it into Oscar triumph.

It is hard to judge the film on its own merit, though, because no one has seen it.  However, if the trailer is any indication, we are really in for a treat.  “Invictus” seems to be one of those inspirational movies designed to make your heart melt, the type of movie that the Academy hadn’t rewarded in a while until last year when “Slumdog Millionaire” cleaned house.  If “Slumdog” has really ushered in a new era of feel-good, triumphant films taking home the big prizes, “Invictus” seems to be a logical successor.  But then again, I feel like bloggers like myself often create these “movements” much like some suspect English teachers of coming up with “themes.”  Maybe we over think it, and the choice of a body of voters is just based on what movie took their breath away that year.

To bring up the obligatory other face of the coin, Clint Eastwood perhaps isn’t quite as venerated by the Academy as many think.  Neither of his two works gained much attention; “Gran Torino” wound up with a goose egg in the nomination column, not even willing to acknowledge what could be the last time he steps in front of the camera.  The Academy rarely awards more than two Oscars to actors and directors, and maybe the voters think that Eastwood has gotten enough recognition from them.  On a different note, if people are looking for a fairly buoyant movie, they might find “Up in the Air” a more appealing choice.  Critics claim that it truly expresses the zeitgeist of these tough economic times, addressing our problems but infusing the gravity with a bit of levity.

While I could spend all day discussing the awards potential of “Invictus,” I will let the movie speak for itself on December 11.  Then I will be in a much better position to discourse.