Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Clint Eastwood has played many different roles. He started out in westerns, arguably his most famous role in this genre being his role of Inspector Harry Callahan in 1971's "Dirty Harry". He's done comedic roles, such as his role as astronaut Frank Corvin in 2000's "Space Cowboys", a film in which he both starred and directed. He's even done a musical, 1969's "Paint Your Wagon". Of late, he has been known more for his work behind the camera. He has been at the helm of some very excellent award winning films, such as "Million Dollar Baby" and "Mystic River". He has also directed several great actors to academy award wins, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank for their roles in "Million Dollar Baby" and Sean Penn and Tim Robbins for their roles in "Mystic River". His latest film, "Invictus", is a story about an apartheid ravaged South Africa in the early 1990s. More so, it's a story about South Africa's rugby team and their quest to win the sport's highest honor. Along the way, they gain the support of many, but most prominently, the country's president, Nelson Mandela.

Morgan Freeman plays the role of Mandela, with stunning accuracy. It's no wonder that Eastwood often calls upon him. Matt Damon plays the role of rugby captain Francois Pienaar, who takes a team that is, at first, thought of as a joke, to eventually becoming a serious contender for the prestigious world cup. Mandela, having just been released after serving nearly thirty years in prison, befriends the young rugby captain, and while attending to his commitments as president, he also becomes committed to the team and their cause. Francois and president Mandela, in a poignant scene in the film share a spot of tea. They share conversation and talk politics. Eventually, the conversation turns more inspiring, more specifically, the president asks Francois how he has inspired his team. His answer is simple. Music. After their meeting, Mandela writes down an inspiring poem entitled "Invictus". Later in the film, we discover that this poem was Mandela's inspiration while he spent all those years in a prison cell, one barely long enough to stand in with outstreched arms.

While the acting, directing and cinematography were excellent, the story seemed a little lacking. Like many sports themed films, this film is inspiring, undoubtedly, the underlying feature of this film. The scenery in and around South Africa is gorgeous. Eastwood certainly has a talented eye. Some of the dialogue gets lost among the thick language and accents of the South African actors. Naturally, the actors were excellent. As I mentioned earlier, Freeman's role as Mandela was excellent. He's an actor who does not merely impersonate his subjects. He becomes completely entrenched with them. Matt Damon is excellent as well. He speaks seemlessly with a South African accent. However, I can't get past Damon's role as the young Bean Town thug in "Good Will Hunting". He's an excellent actor, no doubt about that, but because of his roles in that film and "The Departed", I couldn't quite wrap my head around Damon being cast in this role.

This was a good film, and while most of it was enjoyable, there was definitely a feeling of disappointment. I can't help but get caught up in the hype of some films. This was no exception. The film was highly tauted and praised. Don't expect to go into this film and watch greatness. It was a good film, not great.

Name Your Link

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Quentin Tarantino's newest film, "Inglorious Basterds" is a film for those who love to read. Much of the film is either in French or German with English subtitles. We were introduced to Tarantino in 1992 with "Reservoir Dogs", and then followed that film's success with an Academy Award win in 1994 with the extraordinary "Pulp Fiction". Different directors are known for their different styles of filmmaking. Tarantino often applies the use of chapters, which breaks the film into its different scenes and stories. Some people may argue that this style robs the film of any flow or continuity, but I think that it does the opposite. This way, the person watching the film doesn't get too settled on one story of a multiple story film, much like reading a multi-layered mystery novel. In the end, the filmmaker (or author) can take those multiple story lines and tie them up neatly into one. Sometimes, this is not done as effectively as the director intends. This is not the case with this film, as Tarantino has proven several times, he is a master filmmaker with a unique vision.

In the film, Brad Pitt stars as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, an American soldier who leads a special team through World War two era France, known as "The Basterds". They all have one task; striking fear into the hearts of Hitler's Third Reich by systematically killing and brutally scalping Nazis. The film progresses through France and Germany with Tarantino's signature use of brutal, sometimes cartoon-ish violence. However, much of the violence in this film is inferred. We'll hear a gunshot in the background, but the camera will be focused on a large crowd or a closed door. Many films can be derailed by their lack of intelligent dialogue. One thing that can be said for Tarantino's films is, while they may contain violence and lascivious language, they also contain intelligent dialogue. Some people may find these films dull, as most of Tarantino's films are dominated by dialogue, with only splashes of action. This often leads to an action filled climax. But more importantly, the excellent dialogue is paramount to these films' success.

Much of the time, a film is made successful by, not only employing a stellar main cast, but also choosing an excellent supporting cast. Any of Tarantino's films, but especially this one, is certainly no exception. The first supporting player is played by Diane Kruger. She plays Bridget von Hammersmark, a German born actress who has been recruited by the Americans has a spy. Her fame as an actress makes her transition between drinking buddy of the Third Reich and American spy seemless. She's gorgeous, but at the same time, she's just one of the guys that could easily drink anyone under the table. Secondly, in the beginning of the film, we are introduced to our other two supporting characters. The first, played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, is a colnel in Hitler's Third Reich. He is responsible for traveling around the country, interviewing the men of the households, and ultimately, making sure that they are not housing Jewish refugees from capture and almost certain death. There has been a lot of buzz around Waltz's performance as Col. Hans Landa. Many people are predicting an Academy Award for supporting actor. If I could vote, I would certainly give him my vote. His portrayal was eerie, diabolical and hilarious all at once. Finally, we are introduced to one of our Jewish refugees, a young French girl, Shosanna, who narrowly escapes death when, during one of Col. Landa's visits, she and her family are discovered. Her entire family is killed. Years later, Shosanna, played by French actress Melanie Laurent, is running a movie theater in Paris which has recently been passed down to her by a recently deceased Aunt. Upon being discovered again by Col. Landa, she hatches a plot with her assistant to lure Hitler himself and his top men into the theater, only to lock them in and set the theater ablaze, no doubt to get revenge for the brutal slaying of her family years earlier. Laurent could be a contender for the Academy Award as well. Her performance was excellent.

While moving slow at times, this film over all was vintage Tarantino. Excellent writing and character development were highlights. I did not expect so many subtitles in the film, but that was easily ignored, and I was able to enjoy this film. It's certainly worthy to add to any collection.

Inglourious Basterds (2-Disc Special Edition with Soundtrack CD)