The Night Out: Invictus (2009), or Nobody Knows Who Nelson Mandela Is?

13 12 2009

I find it increasingly alarming that nobody around my neck of the woods knows exactly who Nelson Mandela is. I don’t have a lot of heroes in my life, and over the years I become more and more suspicious of anyone who claims to do something for the greater good. But Nelson Mandela has always been a personal icon for international peace, equality, and, most importantly, forgiveness. His story is harrowing and meaningful, and an important one for us to learn and never forget. But it’s a story that is already fading from people’s hearts and minds, and I hope that today’s film, a spry little sports movie named Invictus brings his inspiring tale to new ears, and reminds everyone that not very long ago, people were still separated in society based on the color of their skin.

It is the story of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the year South Africa hosted it. But it is simultaneously about the life of Nelson Mandela, specifically from his inauguration in 1994 to the Rugby World Cup. When he first takes office, Mandela is swamped from the start with issues that require his immediate attention. Although apartheid is over, South Africa is not yet united, and that seems to be his first great hurdle, to unite the once-oppressive minority whites with the majority of black South Africans. While watching the national rugby team, the South African Springboks, Mandela decides that the way to unite the races is to ensure that the team goes to the World Cup Finals and wins. Considering that they’re a bunch of losers when the film starts, it seems like a daunting task, but Mandela has an idea of how to inspire them to victory. With a tough set of matches ahead of them, can the Springboks pull it together and come from dead last to make it to the Finals? Can Mandela unite a country torn apart by racial tensions? Can anybody tell me what a Springbok is?

Clint Eastwood takes a break from directing taut, heart-breaking dramas to make what might be the most inspiring movie of 2009. It just makes you feel GOOD. I just wanted to erase the racial tensions of my own country after I left the theater, but it’s always a little more difficult in America, you know. It’s a positively uplifting story about the power of one man to forgive and how that can affect a country, and how something as simple as rugby can bring people together from all walks of life. I detest sports, and even I was invested in this plucky underdog story. Eastwood touches on a lot of issues here, and through Mandela we travel across all walks of life to discover the sometimes startling fact that we’re really not all that different.

The production is middling but pleasant. All music in Invictus is surprisingly bland. The more I heard of it, the less I wanted there to be a soundtrack at all. There is hardly any good African music, which happens to be a soft spot for me, and a lot of the songs featured are message songs about peace that only serve to pile on to the peace-iness that is Nelson Mandela’s story. The direction is good, but often Eastwood sticks with a shot and goes with it for too long. I liked his more dynamic work in Flags of Our Fathers and Million Dollar Baby, where he was willing to take more risks with his camera. His straight-forward approach is not bad, by any means, but for an energetic rugby movie, I was not really all that jazzed, even during the sporting scenes.

I cannot stress enough how long I have wanted Nelson Mandela to be portrayed on the screen by Morgan Freeman. He looks and speaks just like the man, and while Freeman is slightly more daunting in stature, they seem perfect for each other in a cinematic sense. And while I was hoping Freeman would do a straight biopic of him, I will take this over nothing. This was Freeman’s role of a lifetime, and he nailed it! Every line was dripping with cultural and historical importance, and I doubt even Morgan Freeman knows how powerful his performance was. Matt Damon exceeds expectations as the captain of the rugby team, Francois Pienaar. He is a little bland, and rather off-putting at first with his prudish Afrikaner family, still does his best and succeeds in hitting some good emotional notes. He is not really that interesting, honestly, but you cannot really fault Damon for this; it seems to be a situation that the character, intrinsically, has not so many interesting things about him, so he just has to work with what he has, and for that I say kudos. A standout minor player is Tony Kgoroge, who plays Mandela’s head bodyguard. As the head of security, he is constantly plastered with a worrisome look on his face and a 24 hour grimace. He is on hgh alert as an actor, and I appreciated how natural he was at it. I look forward to seeing more from this young actor.

Invictus is something special to me because of its content, but on its own merits, it’s merely good. Greatness might have been achieved a great many other ways, by making it more about Mandela’s life and times, perhaps spending a bit more thought on the production, or having more exciting rugby scenes, but it’s far from mediocre. With excellent performances by everyone involved, a very inspiring and uplifting script, and a delightful appearance by the New Zealand All Blacks as the villains at the end, it does a good job for what it is. Anyone not very knowledgeable on Nelson Mandela, though, should watch this and learn a little something about one of the world’s finest living individuals. I give Invictus 8 Morgan Mandelas out of 10. Check it out!

Tomorrow I watch Dark City! Until then!

PSA: The Shawshank Redemption (1994), or Maine Is One Fucked-Up State

13 11 2009

Okay, okay, let’s get serious for a minute. I have browbeaten today’s movie around the site very sparsely over the past 11 months. A little here, a little there; not that big of a deal in the long run. But rarely in my history of critiquing movies has there been such a backlash from people when I tell them my dislike for something. If I said right now that I think Citizen Kane is bullshit and I had a reasonable explanation, I think I would be let off the hook if I elucidated enough. But if I tell most people that I dislike watching The Shawshank Redemption and I very plainly give reasons why, I would still be looked upon like I just told everyone I had a plate full of mashed potatoes in my underwear. People are emotionally attached to this movie like it hits close to home or something (I was incarcerated for life, too; don’t feel bad!). Admittedly it has a positive message about the power of equality and courage in the face of despair, but it really doesn’t seem as potent of a film as everyone makes it out to be. I’ve now seen The Shawspank Inflation 4 times now, every time feeling exactly the same as the last. So the two logical conclusions I can come to are either

A). I have a heart made of stone


B). Everyone I’ve ever talked to about this movie has an emotional disorder.

I think you know which one I’m leaning towards…

The Sweetsnack Resplendence is really the story of Andy Dufresne. We follow poor, completely innocent Andy as he’s put through the wringer of the American judicial system in the late 40s after being falsely accused of murdering his wife. He receives a lifetime sentence and is sent to notoriously harsh Shawshank Penitentiary (Maine is one fucked-up state; every King novel references it, and seemingly not in a good way). There, he quickly finds a niche with fellow lifer Ellis “Red” Redding, a friendly fellow who recently was denied parole at his hearing. The two bond over a number of subjects, and they become fast friends. Andy even makes friends with some of the guards, with whom he imparts valuable financial information, and in exchange keeps his enemies at bay. But his one real problem in Shawshank, besides being in prison, is the Warden, a heartless shell of a man who uses the prisoners for his own devious profit. So most of these prisoners will be here for the rest of their lives, doomed to stand behind the same four gray walls until their dying breath. But Andy has a plan; a plan for escape. It won’t be easy, and it will take many, many years for it to come to fruition, but it will be a sweet, sweet victory if he can pull it off without a hitch.

See, a nice story, to be sure. I never once said The Shortcake Relation wasn’t a well made film. It’s meticulously produced and executed with a wonderful cast that had the potential to make something great. Almost to the letter there is quality in every aspect of this production. Frank Darabont makes another appearance on this site within a single week to get on his hands and knees for the one they call Stephen King. His direction is again nothing to scoff at, and it should be noted that while this probably isn’t his best Stephen King adaptation, his is still a vivid storytelling style that will appeal to the visually minded. It’s a good try, and I really can’t stress enough how much I respect the cast and crew for their efforts.

But that doesn’t exactly translate to something worth your time, so what’s the catch? Well, it’s simply that this is one of the most listless mainstream films I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a story of triumph over adversity that is fun for the whole family (except the rape and suicide parts), but it has no zest, no flavor. It’s a boring gray film that emphasizes only how depressing being stuck in a prison in Maine can be. It isn’t even an artistic decision; there’s a huge difference between feeling a character’s listlessness and being bored by the image and everything it represents. It’s just a spectacularly humdrum affair full of muted colors, Morgan Freeman’s droning narration, an unrelenting cloudy sky, and a time period known for its drab conformity and lack of anything stimulating. I squirm from start to finish during The Sharkbait Rotation, and I somehow sat very patiently through all four and a half hours of Che!

It’s also a certain distance between the main character, Andy Dufresne, played by a prime-of-his-career Tim Robbins, and the audience. We’re seeing him through the eyes of Red, played by a prime-of-his career Morgan Freeman, something that would have worked better had Freeman a more intimate knowledge of the guy. Instead, we get sketches of who Andy is and what his motives are while we see them play out on the screen. Some people might argue that Red is the main character, and that we are really seeing his journey through the exploits and times of a younger, more optimistic prisoner. But we know even less about Red than we do Andy, and for a drama set where people are just sitting around talking all day or curled up in a cell thinking about talking, you think that would be easier. We go off of prison yard legends, gossip, and conversations often had on screen about who these people are, when I’d rather just see it happen.

Don’t get me wrong; I can certainly handle my fair share of longer titles, but this one just seems to drag into infinity. Only spanning about 20 years, the film, while over 2 hours long, stretches out in my brain for about an extra 45 minutes. An excellent production brings all these characters to life, but their lives are apparently duller than a prison shank. I wish I could like The Soreflank Indention, but its reality of banality is as painful as it gets, and I don’t wish to be put through it any more. It is a bore of a film that poses the question to me; could you walk out of this movie and find a better one to say what it has to say in a more concise, artful manner, or are you cursed to stay in frown-inducing Maine state prisons for the rest of your life as a thinking individual? I’ve found enough films in my travels to say conclusively that The Skullblank Retraction is a movie that is all pomp and no circumstance. It’s a little bit of some things, but not enough of anything to make it too exciting or memorable or even intensely endearing. I’m sure I’ll be suckered into watching it again at some point next year, with people telling me how good it is and how insane my ambivalence is, but until that time, I’m so done with Stephen King’s incarcerated fairy tale. I give The Stoolsoft Reflection 5 comically misspelled names out of 10, and a hearty bleh from yours truly.

Tomorrow I will see a movie, but I don’t know what it is yet! Send your requests in today, and I’lll make sure you get your voice heard! Until then, folks!!!