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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Che: Film Misses the Mark on Legendary Figure

Posted by goldwriting on January 4, 2009

che For the last time, I was not Keyser Soze.

Rating: 7 out of 10

To the oppressed and abused, he was a legendary hero, to those in power, he was a dangerous revolutionary, and to the middle class hipsters in non-third world countries, he was a pop icon. It is truly an extraordinary person who can fill all these roles at once. He was a lightning rod, grabbing the electricity from the air, from the ground and from the people and using it to burn out the injustice he saw all around him. Whether you were a supporter, detractor or fair-weather fan, you can’t ignore the impact of the one they called ‘Che’.

Che is a gargantuan effort on the part of Steven Soderbergh to tell the story of one of the world’s most politically dynamic personalities. This film begins with his introduction to Fidel Castro and his unassuming beginnings in the armed resistance in Cuba, but it continues as we watch his rise in the revolution, his success in Cuba and his willingness and desire to keep the momentum going in other Latin American countries. The man detailed here is the strategist, the uncompromising moralist and a devout leader to his followers . The film follows his continuing revolution all the way to its tipping point and Che’s eventual downfall.

For any actor out there, starring in a four-and-a-half hour epic is a massive undertaking both in endurance and determination. It’s been a while since someone attached themselves to such a quest, but Benecio Del Toro bites into this role as if he knew this was what he had been waiting for his whole life. Del Toro never totally disappears into the character, but he does succeed in playing it with fire and passion which helps bring the audience through the slower sections. He attacks the story with an uncompromising passion for the cause and I honestly believe if Del Toro wanted to take a step into international politics, his charisma and intensity would win him plenty of respect. He also made one of Che’s main issues throughout his life, his battle with chronic asthma, so believable that during one of his attacks I could actually feel my own chest constricting. The only real question here is whether the audiences that see this film are going to be able to follow Del Toro seamlessly into his oncoming projects, like The Wolf Man. Parts such as this have a tendency to become nearly iconic and hard for an actor to shake off.

Although the character of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara is the central focus of the film, there is a plethora of other people introduced throughout the hours-long epic. The problem here is most of them have a tendency to drift into the background and become unrecognizable. This same issue came up with Milk and Sean Penn‘s performance and level of detail leaving all the other characters feeling flat and one-dimensional in comparison. Che is told in Spanish with English subtitles, so there were no discernible accents or patterns of speech for the smaller characters and an overwhelming amount of them were all dressed in the same green army clothes. So in a number of scenes it became a struggle to be emotionally connected to who had just been shot or which captain of a wandering faction had just been discovered. On the flip side, there are two cameos in the film of well known actors which become very jarring since no one else in the entirety of the piece is incredibly recognizable to American audiences. Lou Diamond Phillips steps on as the leader of one of the Communist Parties in Bolivia and his presence is not totally off kilter for the film, but it does snap the audience out for a moment and make them realize the movie in front of them is not a documentary, but a fictional retelling of those events. As much as it hurts me to say this, worse still was the cameo of Matt Damon. Personally I love Damon and think he is one of the best actors out there in his age group. His appearance as a missionary was played fine, but it did nothing to strengthen the film. All it did was make a number of the film goers laugh during Damon’s one and only scene. It felt like a behind-the-scenes gift from Soderbergh to Damon, who worked wonderfully together on all the Oceans movies, but it will go down in film history as one of the worst cameo choices in terms of tone and importance.

I give mounds and mounds of credit to Soderbergh for attempting such a mammoth film, but in the creation of something so large he fails to really capture the dynamism and attraction of its central character. All we receive here is the military man, the up-and-coming revolutionary who will follow his moral code to its inevitable end, but there was so much more to the man who became the godfather of guerrilla warfare. The passionate side of Che, the teacher of not only tactics, but ethics and morals to his followers is missing from this film. Also, Soderbergh has continually defended this film by saying it is not a glorification of Che, but simply a statement on his worldwide impact during those years, but he failed to really explore the backlash, even from the Cuban people, to Che and his guerrilla tactics. Also, in the editing and creation of the two chapters (how most of the movie going audience will see it, not as one four-and-a-half hour piece), Soderbergh stumbles into making the first half about Cuba incredibly more interesting than the second half detailing Che’s efforts in Bolivia. The first half shows the making of the man, the spark which set Che in motion, but the following chapter only serves as more jungle warfare and feels slightly redundant. I feel it would have served the piece better to remove some of the military movements through various countries and slip in more scenes about who Che was underneath the tattered and torn uniform.

Recommendation: When the film does return to theaters around the country in two separate parts, go see the first one and feel if your interest will carry you through the next one. On its own the first one will remain a strong piece, but the second will falter in comparison. Also, if the film truly succeeds in anything, it definitely makes people want to know more about the medical student who went on to try and heal entire countries.

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Frost/Nixon: Bringing the Fight to the People

Posted by goldwriting on December 7, 2008

frostnixonmovie Did I have your phone tapped? Your voice sounds so familiar…

Rating: 9 out of 10

There are few things in life as exciting or exhilarating as watching a good fight. Maybe it’s the primate in us, a deep evolutionary need to see two people beat the piss out of each other in order to prove dominance. Maybe it’s the need to see a champion, someone we can look up to and model our own lives after. Or, on a slight chance, it’s the glimmer of hope we huddle around to keep us warm and keep our dreams from fading away, the dream that one day someone will topple the champ and change the world forever. Now you might think those emotions only get woken up during a purely physical battle, but if so, you are truly missing out on some of the best battles in human history. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated seven times in 1858 for control of the Illinois legislature and those verbal fencing matches were a preview of the power and eloquence with which Lincoln would bring to bear in his time as President. Almost exactly one hundred years later, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon took to the airwaves for the first ever televised debate between Presidential candidates. Those four on-air matches drew numerous comparisons to their predecessors of nearly a century before. Even in our latest election a highlight truly arrived during our one and only debate between Vice-Presidential candidates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. While it might not have been the intelligence and skill in the fight we were all watching for, it still made for captivating television.

Yet one thing all those previous moments lacked was the dark cloud of obvious guilt and shame hanging over the head of Richard Nixon after he resigned the Presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal. A man who achieved amazing and brilliant things during his time in office was forced to step down and hang his head for something he was arguably not the first to do, just the first to get caught red-handed. I’m not defending Nixon, but in the context of political history, including any number of the documented and undocumented crimes committed by our still reigning President, Nixon was a lightweight. But for the American people of the 1960’s, his betrayal of the public office was the lowest they had seen a President stoop to and they demanded action. After newly sworn-in President Ford issued a complete and unequivocal pardon of Nixon, it seemed as though the American people were going to have to drink and eat whatever they could get their hands on to cover up the bad taste. But then one man stepped up to the plate, determined to give the people exactly what they wanted.

This is not just a history lesson; this is the premise and plot of Ron Howard‘s new film, Frost/Nixon. David Frost was a British talk show host who came up with the idea of interviewing Nixon after his resignation, but his original motives were not entirely altruistic. Mainly, he was a master of television audiences and he could feel the ratings he would get for such an interview would be outrageous. Once he locked the interview in place however, it became a monster he almost couldn’t control. The film is incredibly small in scale, beginning the year where Frost came up with the idea and ending within days after the interview was concluded. We get to see the build up to the big interview, but the actual recorded and tastefully lit chat between the two characters is really the lynch-pin on which the whole film rests. Thinking about the premise beforehand, it’s hard to imagine there being an incredible amount of tension in the movie-going audience, especially since we know what happens, but quality filmmaking and intelligent storytelling can make any old story seem new once again. By the time Frost and Nixon sit across from each other, microphones pinned to their lapels, handkerchiefs folded and makeup invisibly applied, the intensity is palpable. It was akin to watching a heavyweight boxing match, except one contender had never really felt the blow of a well-landed punch before. Once he does, the fear in his eyes truly brings the audience into his mindset. Luckily for us, both in the theater and in history, fear that might make some men run will make others fight all that much harder.

Ron Howard has been making movies for a number of years now and won a number of accolades and critical acclaim, but Frost/Nixon might end up topping them all. With a very simple story he found a way to display two very non-simple people. There is tension, anticipation and weight all brought to bear on a simple interview which ended up changing the lives of not only the people in the chairs, but the worldwide audience as well. Howard also got his two lead actors gift-wrapped, Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. Both actors originally played their roles on stage to massive acclaim, so heading into the movie, they had these characters down cold. There is definitely a difference between playing a role on stage and playing it on film, but the internal work and preparation by these actors is a virtual treasure chest in comparison to what you get on most film sets. The moment they appear on screen, you can feel the depth and skill both actors gained from all their time put in. Frank Langella disappears into Nixon, truly embodying Nixon’s confident walk and sweeping movements of his arms, his imposing intrusion into people’s personal space, and finally the stoop — which on anyone else would have made them look old, but with Nixon is just made him look dangerous and determined. On the other side of the ring, we have Michael Sheen, who shined as David Frost, the plucky and charming television talk show host. There are some moments where Sheen is just listening to Langella rant on and on and Sheen displays an amazing level of intensity, fear and nearly overwhelming nervousness just by using his eyes. He doesn’t even have to move to show the wave after wave of emotional turmoil this man goes through while trying to go toe-to-toe with “Tricky Dick”. Both actors are strong contenders for nominations in the award season.

Beyond the powerhouse duo in front, there is a wealth of strong supporting cast. Sam Rockwell, one of Hollywood’s best go-to character actors, delivers an impassioned performance as James Reston Jr., one of the researchers on Frost’s team. He is the emotional anchor for the team, representing the anger, fury and bitter disappointment of the American people, and if there is one thing Rockwell does better than anything else, it’s playing disappointment and disdain (try poking your head into almost any scene in Choke). Right alongside Rockwell is another amazing talent, Oliver Platt, who plays Bob Zelnick, the more political structure based portion of Frost’s team. Platt continues to do his thing with great talent and shine without ever stealing scenes or trying to make the moment about him. He can be the star of the show if cast that way, but his true talent is blending into an ensemble and making everyone around him better for it. If you’ve never really experienced Platt, I would happily and heartily suggest Casanova and The Three Musketeers, both brilliant comedic performances. A little on the lesser-known side is Matthew Macfadyen, who plays John Birt, Frost’s manager, who continually rallies the troops and sticks by his side even when things are at their most bleak. Macfadyen brought a great sense of strength and loyalty that kept the audience in check and never giving up on Frost and his ultimate goal. As if we needed another name to add to the list, this will benefit all those addicts of the “Six Degrees” game, Kevin Bacon plays Jack Brennan, Nixon’s Chief of Staff and most devoted servant. Bacon lays it on thick, the dogged determination and defense of Nixon, even in the final moments when it all is slipping away. A solid job from an incredibly consistent actor.

Recommendation: If you like movies about important moments in American History, you should like this. If you like Ron Howard films, you should like this. If you like purely character pieces, you should like this. If you are looking for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, you might wanna move on by. Lastly, if you are like me and try to watch everything on the Oscar nominated list, I’m putting good money this film will end up on there somewhere, whether for acting, directing or writing. Save yourself the rush of trying to track it down during awards season and catch it now.
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Change has come…and will continue to do so.

Posted by goldwriting on November 5, 2008

obama

Yes We Did! Yes We Did!

That was the chant last night as I stood in the ballroom of the Los Angeles Hyatt with an overwhelming crowd of Barack Obama supporters. I was given the amazing chance to volunteer and help make the event a success and I grabbed the opportunity with incredible enthusiasm for what the night would bring. I was looking forward to celebrating the oncoming victory with as many supporters as possible. I wanted to feel the rush of joy and hope flow through the crowd when the words “President Obama” appeared on the large projection screens all around us. The energy and excitement that ran through me last night made me realize why it is people get involved in the political process. It was an indescribable moment to be part of a group driven so directly by hope and belief, not money and self-serving ideals. Honestly, I can’t see myself ever going back to the casual observer I once was of the democratic process we are so lucky to be a part of.

That being said, I was saddened to see California’s Proposition 8 pass and ban gay marriages in our state. People who feed on separation and discrimination cheered last night as the measure gained its support, but let me issue a statement to the supporters of Prop 8: Enjoy it while it lasts, your time is coming to a close. It took 8 years for California to overturn Prop 22, which set up the first official ban on gay marriage, and when it passed in 2000 the support was 61% in favor of it, but yesterday Prop 8 only garnered 52% of the vote. Times are changing, people are opening their minds and their hearts to the truth and hope of real equality for all people. The youth of this state made their voices loud and clear, 61% of the 18-29 year old demographic voting against Prop 8, and those youth are going to grow up, they are going to start their own families and pass on the lessons of equality and love and in time their children will also gain the right to shape their state and make their voices heard. It may take months or years to once again remind people of the unconstitutional nature of this ban, but it will happen. The dark cloud sitting on top of California right now is a passing one and in due time we will all bask in the sunshine of equality, togetherness and real love for our fellow man.

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The Visitor: Finding the Beat of Your Heart

Posted by goldwriting on November 1, 2008

Can you teach me something by Journey?

Rating: 9 out of 10

Taking the ordinary and introducing it to the out-of-the-ordinary. That’s what Thomas McCarthy said about his films and their underlying stories. Actually, he probably put it a little more eloquently, but you catch the drift. This is indeed the core of nearly all filmmaking and good storytelling. It brings out the eternal question; What happens when the normal world is shifted, knocked askew by any number of forces and how will the people of that world react? Will they run? Will they freeze? Most importantly of all, what would we do in their shoes? Now before you apply these new questions to such deep and powerful films like Beerfest and Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo, let’s start out with something a bit clearer.

The Visitor tells the story of Walter Vale, an economy professor listlessly wandering through his days pretending to be busy so he can negate any chance for human contact since the loss of his wife. He reluctantly makes a trip to New York for a conference and finds a young couple illegally renting his apartment in the city. Being a decent person, he allows them to stay while they look for a new place, but in return he gets much more than new roommates, he finds the doorway to a life which has been passing him by.

Thomas McCarthy creates a wonderfully simple and beautifully timeless world for us so we can bear witness to one of the great abilities in human nature, love. You can break almost any story down into a love story, but The Visitor is one dealing with numerous types of love in one tale. There is the love of music, shown when Tarek, the young man living in William’s apartment, teaches William about the African drum. Through this new musical outlet, William grows not only as a drummer, but as a person as well, allowing himself to open up to the world walking by him and becoming a participant instead of an invisible observer. There is the love of a young couple, shown by Tarek and Zainab, his girlfriend. They are both living in the country under constant fear of deportation, ignorant retaliation and learning to do what they can to get by, but their love for each other keeps them together and puts smiles onto their faces in even the darkest of moments. There is also the love of a mother for her son, shown through the brave journey of Mouna, Tarek’s mother who travels to New York after five days of not being able to reach her son on his cell phone. Sure, that could sound a touch paranoid, but it was the reality this family was living in which made her so concerned. Lastly, just to top off the love-fest, this also tells the story of love coming again to those who have closed themselves off to the idea. No matter what the circumstances, no matter how long it has been, love can always breach those defenses and wake up the heart once more. All these different versions of love are delicately woven together and paired up with a powerful political sentiment around our broken immigration policies and treatment of illegals. Coming off heavy handed is dangerous when dealing with these themes, so subtlety is the name of the game here and McCarthy handles it with the same skill and honesty he showed us before in The Station Agent. As a writer/director his record is incredibly strong, so I recommend keeping an eye out for anything bearing his name.

As with most small stories like this one, much of the weight and success falls on the shoulders of the actors and their ability to deliver realistic, believable and truthful performances. Casting becomes a type of “make-or-break” decision for the project and Thomas McCarthy came well prepared to the table. He had Richard Jenkins in mind for Walter Vale from nearly the beginning and stuck with him even after Richard told him that he would love to play the character, but the movie would most likely never get made with him as the lead. Richard wasn’t saying this out of any type of martyr complex, but he has been a character actor for a great many years without a starring role and he knew his name would not carry much weight on the playbill, yet even with that fact staring him in the face, Thomas stuck to his guns and fought for Richard. After winning all necessary battles, Richard walked into the role with such amazing depth and sensitivity garnering him incredible buzz and murmurs of Academy nominations. If he doesn’t reach the heights of the golden statue this time, he shouldn’t be too heartbroken because I have no doubt a number of the independent awards and smaller organizations are going to give notice and heap praise. There were such small and nuanced details to every moment he portrayed, it was impossible not to feel for him during this journey. From platonic caring to romantic longing, Richard proved once and for all he is a lead actor and one to be learned from. Also involved from near the inception of the story was Hiam Abbass, who played Tarek’s mother, Mouna Khalil. She really fit perfectly with the style and grace of Jenkin’s performance, showing a quiet, reserved, yet insurmountable strength which propelled her character to do absolutely anything to be there for her son. As for the young couple, Haaz Sleiman played Tarek and Danai Jekesai Gurira played Zainab. Both were quite good and held up the incredible level of commitment and quality already being displayed in the film. Haaz boldly followed his ark of being hopeful and optimistic about life in America to barely contained rage over his mistreatment from ignorance and fear. Danai displayed the other side of being a foreigner in this country, the side where they try as best as they can to keep to themselves and not interfere or be noticed for fear of being deported. Her struggle displays one of the true tragedies of the story, where the yellow brick road leading many immigrants to our shores and streets ends on cracked pavement and broken promises.

Recommendation: The Visitor is an amazing film which really brings out the depth of feeling we yearn for from independent cinema. It has had a long and slow burn on the film circuit and at this time can already be found on DVD, so do yourself a favor and buy, rent or borrow this movie as soon as you get the chance. If you’re lucky, the story of Walter Vale might even inspire you to continue on your own journey, wherever it may lead.

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Daily Musings 2/26

Posted by goldwriting on February 26, 2008

1 – I love stumbling across hidden treasures of the Interweb and thanks to exquisite team of people over at Defamer, I can now tell all of you of the genius that is Garfield Minus Garfield. The truth finally comes out, Jon Arbuckle is certifiably insane.

2 – Here is the first of the amazing Touhou videos (meaning the one I posted before was not actually the first one created, but it was the first one posted here. Confused yet?). In this installment the animator brings back one of the most beloved theme songs and title sequences in late eighties/early nineties television, Perfect Strangers.

3 – The rumors are getting louder that the New (Old) Kids on the Block are planning some type of reunion tour. Evidently they have all landed in Los Angeles and a photo shoot could be happening as you read this. Haven’t they had kids by now? Are they going to be on the tour as the New Kid’s Kids?

4 – At a screening of The Signal someone decided to show their disappointment in the film by stabbing two random people. My favorite part of this story is the article goes on to mention how the man was kicked out of the theater. Really? Stabbing people is worthy of dismissal from my local movie house? What is this world coming to!?! [via FilmDrunk]

5 – I’m hoping this officially kills this newfound trend. I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan, but jumping on the “I’m F*cking [insert random actor here]” bandwagon plays as a little desperate for attention. This time they have Elizabeth Banks singing about Seth Rogan, mainly because they are starring in Kevin’s next movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Most of this clip is rehash and not all too funny, but it picks up points towards the end with a cameo by Kevin Smith and the moment where Seth Rogan compares his manly bits to an Otter. Enjoy.

I’m F*cking Seth Rogan [via FilmDrunk]

6 – If a movie isn’t being made about this already, I’ll trade you all the Magic cards I still own (somewhere, in a box, not organized by color or anything like that, I swear). Oscar Heist, via New York Post.

7 – I’ve watched this a couple times and eventually you can totally see that the coach is having a completely legitimate reaction. [via With Leather]

8 – The Clinton camp is denying any participation in this, but honestly I don’t buy that for a second. A photo has been circulated around the news agencies and sent to blogging sites, like The Drudge Report, of Barack Obama dressed in traditional Somali garb while he was visiting a holy site in 2006. The Somali dress is distinctly Muslim-looking and the photo taken out of context is blatantly trying to show Obama as a terrorist sympathizer. I truthfully thought Hillary would try to win the Texas and Ohio primaries with dignity, but she has now completely erased any sense of that I had for her. [via BBC news]

9 – In the event of alien invasion, you need to know the specific things the alien species are vulnerable to. Thanks to this helpful instructional video, we now know that alien aggressors cannot handle the smooth pop vocal of Rick Astley. [thanks Dave]

10 – Maxim magazine has officially apologized to The Black Crowes because one of their reviewers actually sent in a negative review of their upcoming album without even hearing the entire thing. It was an “educated guess” he said. Hmmm… I’m pretty sure the next album I hear of woodchucks performing Gregorian chants is going to make my ears bleed, but I would at least listen to it first. Who knows, maybe one woodchuck would stand out above the rest, a diamond in the rough, as it were. [via Starpulse]

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