Sunday, December 27, 2009


I will be taking a leave of absence from 'A Blogwork Orange'. If any updates are made (when it does return, it will probably be moved to a different blog site), you will find out here first. It's rather strange to stop in the middle of the awards season (my favorite time to write), but suffice it's to say: I'm no longer enjoying myself. When the time comes, and I begin to miss it, I will be writing again. Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you come again soon.

Au revoir!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Invictus (***)

Produced and Directed by Clint Eastwood


There are some people who, just by name alone, conjure up the thought: "That guy's life would make a terrific money." Even if you don't know anything about them as a person, just their name conjures up such an aura that creates visions of dramatic (or more precisely, cinematic) proportions. Jim Morrison, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Hitler are just a few of those names--some of them have had their own movie, some have not. Nelson Mandela is one of those people. Clint Eastwood's film Invictus is a story about Mandella, but not necessarily the kind you would expect.

The film begins as Mandella (Morgan Freeman) has begun his service as the newly elected president of South Africa, shortly after Apartheid. It is a moment of great cheer for most of the country's population, but for some of the more prejudiced (or white) population, Mandella is seen as a threat, sure to overrun the country with angry zealots looking to act out their vengeance. Mandella has no interest in that, though, and is only interested in heading a more peaceful nation. He insists that the white employees of the previous administration stay, and even hires white bodyguards. This raises a lot of eyebrows even from his closest followers.

As Mandella rises as a politician, the country's national rugby team is failing quickly. Captained by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), the team is shackled by low moral, short on motivation, and while becoming drenched in numerous losses, they are heckled endlessly by public television analysts. Simply stated, they are an international laughing stock. Even when trying to stay level-headed, Pienaar has become undeniably frustrated with the team's mediocrity. As Mandella notices the team's downfall, he decides to have tea with Pienaar and asks him a simple favor: try to have the team win the 1995 World Cup.

It seems like an unfathomably tall order, and one Pienaar finds hard to take seriously. The team begins a hellish workout regiment in order to train. Despite trying to lead an apartheid-torn country, Mandella always finds the time to check in on the team from time to time. With Mandella's endorsement giving them a new-found confidence, the team starts to win. As the all-white team begins to climb it's way into the World Cup standings, the country begins to band together behind their scrappy, imperfect team. Known as the 'Springboks' by most black South Africans, the whole country becomes enraptured with this team, no matter the color.

I'm an American sports fan, which means I know absolutely nothing about Rugby. It seems a bit haphazard and dangerous, with men piling on top of each other and tackling with ferociousness. Kind of like American football, without the helmets and shoulder pads. That said, Invictus is still one of the greatest sport films I've ever seen. I find most sports movies callow and unmotivated. For the most part, they know that their sport will have its own audience, and fall back on sports cliche to tell the story. Invictus showcases sports in an enlightening way, showing that it is not the sporting event itself that is meaningful, but what that event does for the people who are watching.

It would have been easy to make a film about Mandella's thirty-year imprisonment and think that would have been enough to properly display Mandella's story. Instead, Eastwood takes a different view. He shows Mandella as a leader, someone whose impeccable intelligence lent itself appropriately toward diplomacy. Rounding out his spectacular decade as a filmmaker (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters From Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino)*, Eastwood has made what is probably his most generalized, populist film. Even though Mandella is lionized to an impossible level (a subplot detailing his estranged family does little to sway our sympathy), we still don't mind watching Mandella in this story, because we're not forced to worship him.

It's certain that Morgan Freeman looks a lot like Nelson Mandella in this film, but I'll admit that my ignorance on the man makes it nearly impossible for me to judge how well he nails the political icon. Freeman brings as much delicacy and cadence to this role as he does to all his roles, and its obvious that Freeman sees this as the role of a lifetime. As the Springboks' captain, Damon does a good job of showing South Africa's swaying allegiances. Raised by prejudiced white parents, Peinaar had to take risks believing in his new leader, and Damon manifests those conflicting emotions well.

I'm glad that Eastwood decided to tell this story, and not something more obvious. It's a real sports movie, and by that I mean it really tells a sports story, and not a movie about a bunch people playing that sport. Maybe that's why I was able to forgive it's imminent predictability. Nothing will surprise you, and some of the dialogue screams of "Please put me in the trailer! I can sell the hell out of this movie!" Just watching the trailer would cause film producers to hide all of their Oscars, though I don't how much of a chance it has now. You'll feel god walking out of this film, and if you don't know any better, you'll probably be inspired as well.

*Did I just conveniently skip over Blood Work and Space Cowboys when talking about Clint's 2000's filmography? Yes, I did...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Nat'l Board of Review is Looking Up

The National Board of Review prides itself on being the first awards service to grace the Fall Movie Season. You have to wonder about an organization that honors the best films of a given year when there are still four weeks left in that respective year. That said, this is the first award that can be considered a "big deal", Oscar-wise. After all, last year's NBR winner (Slumdog Millionaire) went on to win the Best Picture trophy. Here were there choices this year:

BEST DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood, Invictus
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up In The Air

Top 10 Films of the Year
(Well, Top 11 if you count Up In The Air):

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

Hmmm... No Precious is a bit of a surprise, and they certainly love Invictus more than other people seem to. The Messenger and Star Trek are also surprising, I guess, but the NBR always likes to be the first awards body to make an audience go "Wha???".

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 ENSEMBLE: It's Complicated
BEST BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
BEST BREAKTHROUGH ACTRESS: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

No Mo'Nique for Best Supporting Actress is a little bit of a shocker (but Kendrick was so good also, so I can't really complain), and the only attention they gave Precous at all was Sidibe's win for "Breakthrough Actress". Will The Messenger have as big of an awards' presence as the NBR seems to think it will? I don't think so, but that's what these early awards circles are about: leading us astray.

So here's what we know now: Up In The Air is now a serious contender for Best Picture, and so is Clooney for Best Actor. I still think Precious will hold on through this, but this wasn't a good start. I was excited that Carey Mulligan got some recognition (though it only cements that Tilda Swinton's work in Julia will get ignored), and I hope she won't get abandoned at the last moment like Sally Hawkins was last year (for her greatness in Happy-Go-Lucky). Glad the awards season is started!

Trailer Watch: The Last Station

This is the latest arrival of the Oscar hopefuls and possesses a tremendous cast of actors (Plummer, Giamatti, McAvoy, and Mirren). Michael Hoffman's latest film seems a bit stuffy on the surface, but if early word and this trailer seem to suggest that there is a lot more here. It seems funny and sexy, even without a performer that is either funny or sexy. I'm excited about it, and it could be a very serious player come January and February.