Flixchatter Review: Invictus

On the plane ride back home, I wasn’t able to fall asleep right away. So what’s better than catching up on flicks I’ve missed and Invictus is one I had been wanting to see (I wrote a post on it back in October).

The Clint Eastwood-directed flick tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team Francois Pienaar to help unite their country. It’s what he called a ‘human calculation,’ a risky political gamble on his part, but one he isn’t afraid to lose. “The day I am afraid to do that is the day I am no longer fit to lead,” he says admirably.

Biopic is always a tricky undertaking, but Eastwood wisely chose not to tell Mandela’s whole life story. Instead it’s a slice of his extraordinary life as the newly-elected first black president, four years after he was released from 27-year imprisonment in 1990.

Going in, I confess I didn’t know much about Mandela’s history, but I definitely come to appreciate him more after seeing the movie. There’s a scene where a newspaper headline reads: He can win an election, but can he lead a country? A skeptical sentiment amongst his people that greeted his political triumph. But Mandela calmly responds to his irritated chief of staff Brenda, “It’s a legitimate question.” It’s amazing how after nearly 3 decades behind bars, he didn’t become embittered or vengeful.

Based on a short poem of the same name that means ‘unconquered,’ the story is quite simple and blatantly predictable. I never doubted for a moment that somehow the underdog team would win the championship, the rugby-heavy scenes played out like a tearjerker sports flick like Rudy or Invincible. But yet, it was still a worthwhile journey to take in all the way to its jubilant happy ending. This is truly a movie where performances are the heart of the movie, overcoming the cliches and schmaltzy-ness on numerous occasions.

Morgan Freeman is used to playing larger-than-life characters, after all he’s played God with such finesse – in a brash comedy Bruce Almighty no less – so it’s a no-brainer he’s the right man to portray the Noble Peace Prize-winning humanitarian. Acccording to IMDb trivia, Mandela himself apparently wanted the 73-year-old Tennessee-born actor to portray him, and it’s easy to see why. Freeman depicted Mandela such grace and convincing statesman-like quality that his uneven South African accent never derail his heartfelt performance. He truly made the movie for me, he embodied his character so well and made him admirable and relatable at the same time.

The handshake that made history

Matt Damon isn’t an actor I’ve always been a fan of, but he won me over after the excellent Bourne series and he’s proven time and again that he’s quite a versatile and likable actor. He bulked up considerably to play the role of Springboks captain Pienaar, and took some extensive rugby training by Chester Williams, the only black Afrikaan member of the team. But it’s his warmth and believable respect and admiration towards Mandela that really touched me. Freeman and Damon’s chemistry is crucial to the plot and they had that in spades.

The rugby scenes are ok I suppose, but then again I’m not a sports fan and sports flicks isn’t my genre. But I think it served the story here, and provided for the emotional key scenes. I’m more moved by the inspiring Mandela quotes peppered throughout: Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it’s such a powerful weapon. That’s definitely something to aspire to.

I don’t know if it’s the music, Eastwood’s direction or my hormones simply playing tricks on me, but I find myself tearing up a lot throughout the movie. Even my hubby was chuckling at me as I frantically searched for tissue to wipe off my endless tears.

At the end of my previous post, I asked ‘let’s see if this will indeed rise above a typical feel-good sports movie.’ Happy to say that it absolutely did rise far above that. I’ll remember this movie more for its profound message on humanity than the rugby game.

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What’s your thoughts of INVICTUS?

Are fresh ideas a thing of the past in Hollywood?

 

Jonah Hex, Iron Man, Karate Kid, Amelia
Jonah Hex, Iron Man, Karate Kid, Amelia

I was checking my email and there it was on the Yahoo main page that Russell Crowe is in talks to do a remake with Paul Haggis. I couldn’t help thinking, yet another remake? Which is a strange coincidence the fact that my hubby just quipped last night how Hollywood is filled with oodles and oodles of comic-based flicks. Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Thor, the list goes on and on and on. It’s as if Hollywood has this mentality that originality is for losers, as most people would rather pay to see Wolverine than say, Away We GoI can’t remember the last time I saw a film based on an original screenplay (Ok, ok, I’m finally gonna see Juno as my colleague just lent me his DVD). 

All this led me to deduce that most mainstream flicks being made lately fall into these three categories: remakes, comic-based or biopics. Wait, I’m forgetting one more: sequels! As soon as a flick’s box office hit at least twice its budget, you can bet a follow-up is already in the can. Horror films are notorious for this—we’ll be seeing SAW 12 before the decade is over—which seems to carry over to mind-numbing action fares such as Fast and Furious. Thank goodness indie productions are generally still on the artsy side, but you’d literally have to fight your way to find most of them in your local theater.

This site has tracked no less than fifty-five (you read that right, 55!) remakes in the works. And that was back in December so that number could very well double by now and some of them might’ve already been made. It came as a surprise to me that The Taking of Pelham 123 was a remake, and so is State of Play. I shook my head as I perused down the list, many of them aren’t good enough to begin with I couldn’t fathom why they warrant to be redone (I mean, Karate Kid? Seriously!)

It seemed like it wasn’t that long ago that seeing a superhero-type flick was a novelty thing. There were Superman in the 70s, Batman films in the 90s, but it seems as though once Bryan Singer’s X-Men became a huge hit at the turn of the century, a plethora of superhero-themed flicks began popping up faster than you can saw ‘pow!’ Just check out Superherohype.com, a site that’s perhaps created to fulfill a niche market in the film industry. But now it has become the norm as original script is as rare as icicles in the sahara. Hardly a week goes by without a new comic/graphic novel adaptation being announced. Marvel and DC are constantly one-upping each other as the two main comic publishers, but Hollywood isn’t just adapting English-comics, there are a boatload of  International comics such as Japanese manga that’s still largely untapped by US market. 

Now, what’s Bruce Lee, Lance Armstrong and Judy Garland have in common? They’re all subjects of new biopics in the works. The trend of late seems to be female-based biopics. Julie & Julia (Julia Child), Amelia (Amelia Earhart) and Coco avant Chanel (Chanel fashion house) are all out this year. You don’t even have to be a ‘legend’ of sorts to be made into a biopic, rumor has it even Britney Spears will have its own biographical movie! And I’m sure you’ve heard the hullabaloo about Susan Boyle biopic, I guess now just being a contestant in some lame reality show gets you in the same league as Amelia Earhart? Oh well, the list is endless, with celebrities dead or alive being the answer of the industry’s creative drought. I’m not against biopics mind you, it’s just that Hollywood is habitually more interested in sensationalism than truth. But a handful of those do have merits, as we can all learn from somebody who has the courage to overcome adversity, or how an ordinary person beats the odds to follow his or her dreams. 

Likewise, there are well-written and good quality remakes out there (Scarface, Cape Fear – I bet you didn’t know Scarface was a remake, did you? Neither did I!). And some comic-based flicks can be as good as award-winning classics. The Dark Knight for one, is robbed of an Academy Award nomination.  

So who knows how long this trend will last, but my guess is they’re all here to stay. This blog says it best, the reason why they keep making them, is because we, the movie goers, keep paying for them.

Burns, baby, Burns!

GB as the Robert Burns – what better man to play Scotland’s favorite son than the very Scottish Gerard Butler?

Robert 'Rabbie' Burns
Robert 'Rabbie' Burns

Now this is as good a news as they come for Gerard Butler’s fans. Those who’ve been following his career for a while knows full well he’d be perfect for the role and allegedly, the actor himself WANTS to do it. As far back as 3 years ago, at the Red Eye premiere (that smart thriller with Cillian Murphy & Rachel McAdams), he told a reporter that he’s read the script, and in his usual gregariousness enthused how great it was. He even said Julia Stiles was interested to play Burns’ love interest, Jean Armour. Sadly, it went ‘puff’ as soon as GB got his big break in 300. Suddenly he became too busy doing everything from rom-coms to straight-to-DVD wannabe-thrillers that Burns got put in the back burner  (or more like shoved under the rug!). He blamed it on financing but methinks he just got other priorities that spell ‘ka-ching.’ Let’s face it, doing a biopic on Rabbie Burns isn’t exactly Michael Bay-type of a blockbuster.

In any case, as of January ’09, seems like the Burns biopic is finally back on! According to Filmstalker, even the Scottish Government is going to provide financial backing for the film. How cool is that? You can read more about it here.

Let’s hope that this is more than just a rumor or wishful thinking. I can’t wait to see GB’s dramatic chops nail this one, oh, and it’d be great to hear him use his own Scottish brogue for once!

In honor of Burns, here are five notable biopics worth another look:

  • Walk the Line (Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash)
  • Ray (Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles)
  • Schindler’s List (Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler)
  • The Agony & the Ecstasy (Charlton Heston as Michelangelo)
  • A Beautiful Mind (Russell Crowe as Noble Prize winner John Nash)