Sunday, January 28, 2007

Not Your Standard Africa

As most films that take place in Africa, The Last King of Scotland has the standard scene of overly happy children running beside a dirt road waving. As most African-based films, it also has your standard naive white man who goes to Africa to help make things better. But The Last King of Scotland is far from standard. It's one of those great movies that you'll never see again.

You'll never see it again not because it wasn't good, because believe me, it is damn good. You'll never see it again because you'll never forget it. The images will stay with you long enough that you probably won't need (or want) to watch this movie for a long while. The harshness of Idi Amin's rule is hidden from view for most of the film, but somehow the audience is really never allowed to forget that it's there.

Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Amin is spectacular, and I don't need to be a history buff to see this. From the moment he steps on the stage at the beginning of the movie, I know that this man is a presence to be reckoned with. Whitaker shows every side of Amin from playful to paranoid to murderous, and I never want to look away.

The cinematography and the editing also grabbed me. The camera is mostly hand held and always seems to be moving. The cuts are long when necessary, letting the action play out, and the transitions give us a moment to breathe and take in the scene that precedes it. The lack of stillness and the steady pacing adds to the uncomfortable feeling I had in the back of my mind, waiting for the moment when Nicholas (James McAvoy) would realize that Amin was not the man he appeared to be.

A lot of the reviews I've read have criticized the writers for creating a fictional character to tell the story of a real dictator, but I don't agree. I believe that Nicholas' naivete helps the audience connect with the story, helps them see Amin for everything he was. If Amin had been the central character of this story, I don't believe we would've understood how the Ugandan people could've cheered in the streets when he came to power.

This is not a run out and see it now kind of movies, but I will say don't miss it. If it's not playing in a theatre near you, be sure to catch it on DVD. It's definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but not all great movies are.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Face That Says It All

I saw The Queen today--a movie I wasn't sure I wanted to see. Even after I read the reviews, even after three friends told me it was a good movie, I still wasn't sure this was my kind of movie. And, if it weren't for the spectacular performances by Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, I would be right.

There are two moments in The Queen that make this film worth seeing. The first is Tony Blair's outburst to his staff as HM Queen Elizabeth gives her first public speech about Princess Di's death. Michael Sheen throws all of his emotional gusto into this short speech without being over the top and without showing off his acting chops. It's a moment that's been building up for a good bit of the second act, and I, for one, was happy to see the tension pay off in probably the only true emotional outburst in the entire film.

The second is the one moment that emotionally affected me. If you don't know it already, I'm a movie cry baby. I get caught up in a good movie, and I can't help but get very attached to stories and characters. In this scene, the queen approaches a little girl holding a bouquet outside Buckingham Palace. The small interchange that this little girl and this legendary woman have is exquisite. A good actor can put everything in his or her face, and Helen Mirren is most definitely a good actor. The look on her face--the sadness, the joy, the relief--brought a tear to my eye, and that is when I truly understood why she's been so lauded for this role.

The Queen is quiet. It's a beautifully quiet film about a sensational moment in modern history. The characters in this film are not particularly driven by their inner-most feelings. So, if you're expecting some emotional roller coaster that digs deep into the secret life of the monarchy, go watch Elizabeth. If you want to see a spectuacular showcase of subtle acting talent, see this movie, and cheer for Helen Mirren when she wins the Oscar for this performance.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Best Worst Movie of the Year

I just found out the Lady in the Water is up for Worst Movie of the Year at the Razzies. It's so sad that no one liked this movie. I thought this movie was great.

I've always believed that even when his story isn't strong, M. Night Shyamalan has a way with a camera, and this film was no exception. Every camera placement was intentional, and even though they were a little pretentious at times, all the angles worked for me. Paul Giamatti never disappoints, and little Noah Gray-Cabey is excellent--just as he is on Heroes. I could've lived without having so much of Mr. Director in the movie, but hey, his movie, his choice.

So, if you didn't see this movie because of the horrible reviews, give it a chance. It's a light story that's slightly predictable but interesting just the same. If you didn't see this movie because the last M. Night movie you liked was The Sixth Sense, skip it by all means.


The Beginning

Today the Oscar Nominations were announced, and I believe this is the day to begin my year-long film diary. In this blog, I will talk about movies. You will get my reviews, my opinions, my anticipated new releases, and general talk about awards. If you don't agree with me, that's fine. If you do agree, that's even better. Hopefully it'll be a good year, and there will be a lot of things worth writing about.