Reviews for December 11th, 2009
Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Based on the book Playing the Enemy by John Carlin. After serving twenty-seven years in prison, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) gets elected as President of South Africa in 1994 and struggles to find a way to put an end to the apartheid that has segregated the blacks and whites of the nation for decades. He decides to start a campaign that would unite his country by calling Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), the captain of the country’s predominantly-white rugby team, Springboks, into his office to show his support for the team and to encourage them to win the 1995 World Cup Championship. His black body guards don’t quite like the idea of working along with Afrikans which Mandela had just hired. Also, Mandela has Francois and his rugby team travel throughout the country to teach the sport to young black kids. The reliable-as-always Morgan Freeman delivers an Oscar-worthy performance that nails Mandela’s warmth, charisma and strength of mind with utter conviction. Whenever he’s onscreen alone, the movie soars into a somewhat engrossing, captivating drama. For example, it’s quite moving to watch how Mandela recalls the powerful, inspirational words from William Ernest Henley’s short poem, “Invictus,” which is Latin for “unconquerable.” The scenes with Francois feel less-than-captivating and dull by comparison, though. Screenwriter Anthony Peckham essentially squanders the opportunity to flesh out the unique friendship between Mandela and Francois by instead focusing too much on Mandela’s repeated attempts to show his support for the Springboks by showing up at the games, one of which he shows up briefly in a rather unconventional way. Peckham doesn’t allow the audience to get into the mind of Mandela beyond what he was like as a President. The same could be said for Francois whom you barely even get to know as the captain of Springboks. On a positive note, director Clint Eastwood moves the pace along at an appropriate leisurely pace, includes terrific cinematography as well as a well-chosen musical score that tugs at your heart and keeps your pulse pounding, especially during the many exciting rugby matches. Despite a captivating-as-always performance by Morgan Freeman, Invictus ends up rather dull and underwhelming while lacking enough sharp attention on the dynamics of Mandela’s friendship with Francois Pienaar off of the rugby field. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Opens nationwide.
The Lovely Bones
Directed by Peter Jackson.
Based on the novel by Alice Sebold. 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) lives in a suburban home with her loving parents, Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz), and her two siblings, Lindsey (Rose McIven) and Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale). She bonds with her eccentric, alcoholic grandmother, Lynn (Susan Sarandon), has a crush on a boy in her school, Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie). According to her own narration, she had been murdered and raped on December 6th, 1973 by a neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who lives alone and had lured her into an underground room that he had dug beneath a field. She’s currently in the “in-between,” a location between heaven and earth, where she looks upon her family from up above and awaits for desperately vengeance against her killer before he lures his next victim. Meanwhile, a local cop, Len (Michael Imperioli), investigates the case. The screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson juggles the genres of fantasy, suspense, drama and romance with very uneven results that aren’t nearly as poignant as they should have been. As for any suspense or mystery, there’s none really since you already know from the get-go that George raped and murdered here, so now you’re just waiting for someone from Susie’s family to come to that realization. However, it takes Jack, Susie’s father, too long to figure out the truth, and once he confronts George, you’re already frustrated and tired of that tedious plot strand. It would have been much more engaging had Peter Jackson kept more of the story grounded on earth and character-driven rather than awkwardly shifting to the scenes in the “in-between” so often. A lengthier first act with Susie interacting with her family before her death would also have been helpful in getting to know her better as a character. The third act, though, falls about with poorly wrapped-up plot strands, some of which will cause you roll your eyes rather than shed a tear. The scenes during “in-between”, admittedly, look breathtaking and visually stunning, though. Also, it’s worth mentioning the solid performances, especially by Stanley Tucci who sinks his teeth into the creepy role of George quite deftly. At a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, The Lovely Bones manages to be well-acted, visually stunning and initially intriguing, but it quickly falls apart into an uneven, convoluted and unfocused mess that’s neither gripping nor emotionally stirring. Its fatal flaw is excessive style over substance. Number of times I checked my watch: 3 Released by Paramount Pictures. Opens at the AMC/Loews Lincoln Square. Opens wider on Christmas Day and nationwide on January 15th, 2010.
My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done
Directed by Werner Herzog.
Detective Hank Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) arrives at the scene of a homicide in the suburbs of San Diego where Brad (Michael Shannon) stabbed his mother, Mrs. McCullum (Grace Zabriskie), to death with a samurai sword inside the neighboring home where Miss and Mrs. Roberts reside (Loretta Divine and Irma P. Hall). Hank learns that right after the murder, Brad fled to his home across the street and remained there with two unidentified hostages. What led up to Brad killing his mother? What are his motives? Who are those hostages? Those are just a few of the questions that you’ll find yourself asking throughout the film, but the most frequent one you’ll ask might be, “Why should I care about any of this?” At the scene of the crime, Hank passes by some locals who gather to observe the events. One of those locals happens to be Brad who, all-of-a-sudden tells him, “Razzle Dazzle them”, while holding a cup of coffee with the words “Razzle Dazzle.” Brad also turns out that Brad used to be a basketball player and placed a basketball in a small tree by a highway. It’s small, bizarre details like that which make you wonder to yourself what the whole point of everything really is. Not surprisingly, Hank learns from Brad’s girlfriend (Chloë Sevigny) that Brad has been quite mentally unstable and delusional lately ever since he visited Peru. Lee Meyers (Udo Kier), a theater director, informs Hank that Brad had gotten so immersed in the role of Orestes in the play “The Furies” that it made him think he’s like Orestes. He even preferred to use a real sword during rehearsals rather than a fake stage prop. Director/co-writer Werner Herzog includes stylish cinematography and lighting design that’s somewhat eerie and at other times just plain odd, yet nonetheless interesting to pay close attention to. It’s also worth mentioning the use of comic relief in the form of dry, offbeat humor as a means to lighten the mood a bit. Although he has woven a crime drama that seems intricate on the surface, when you really boil it down, it’s rather wafer-thin in terms of suspense and surprises. Had he fleshed out the character of Brad in a sharper, more organic and thorough manner and shown more of the dynamic between him and his mother instead of merely diving head-first into the crime scene and focusing too much on Hank’s perspective, it would have been much more compelling. At a running time of 1 hour and 31 minutes My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done manages to be a visually stylish, mildly engaging crime drama that’s often tedious, sophomoric, increasingly dull and lacking in suspense. Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Absurda.. Opens at the IFC Center.
Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year
Directed by Shimit Amin.
Harpreet Singh Bedi (Ranbir Kappor) has just graduated from college and currently lives with his grandfather (Prem Chopra). Despite his poor grades at school and lack of work experience, he decides to apply for a job as a salesman at AYS, a computer assembly company, and, luckily, gets hired. His boss (Manish Choudhary) belittles him by frequently referring to him as a “zero” around the office and making him look stupid. Little does he know that Harpreet has secretly formed a company, Rocket Sales Corporation, which competes with AYS. That’s when he becomes Rocket Singh and splits the ownership of the corporation equally with his colleagues (Mukesh Bhatt, P Santoshi) and, eventually, the sales manager, Nithin (Naveen Kushik), and a sexy client (Shazahn Padamsee), whom Harpreet, not surprisingly, falls in love with. Screenwriter Jaideep Sahni blends drama, romance, suspense, comedy and social critique with very uneven results. The first act takes too long to get to the point where Harpreet somewhat settles down at AYS and finally comes up with the idea to create the new corporation. Sahni should have either included more comedic moments or made the dramatic ones more believable because the way that Harpreet creates the company and gets clients seems to unrealistic and rushed. It also takes what seems like forever until Harpreet’s boss learns that Rocket Sales Corporation lists a phone number that goes directly to an additional phone line at AYS. There’s virtually no romantic chemistry between Harpreet and the sexy client whom he awkwardly asks out inside a bathroom at a party---in a cheap attempt at making you laugh, a partygoer vomits into the toilet that Harpreet had been sitting on. Fortunately, director Shimit Amin doesn’t include any musical numbers which would have been quite awkward, distracting and unnecessary. It would have been helpful had he edited down the film to a breezy 90 minutes, trimming down most of the lengthy first act and getting rid of the stilted romance, rather than leaving it at a running time of 2 hours and 36 minutely. Ultimately, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year manages to be sporadically amusing, but it often drags and feels contrived and dull while suffering from an uneven balance of comedy, drama, romance and social criticism. Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Released by Yash Raj Films. Opens at the ImaginAsian and AMC Empire 25.