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Invictus

Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon) is a rugby player – but not just any old rugby player – he’s the captain of the national rugby team of South Africa – the Springboks. In 1993, his team faces a challenging time ahead. South Africa is to be the host nation of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in only eighteen months’ time and the Springboks currently languish at the bottom of the world’s elite league. At the same time, Nelson Mandela (by Morgan Freeman) has just been released from prison after 27 years as a political prisoner who challenged and fought his entire life against apartheid. Mandela has quickly ascended to become the democratically elected President of the nation and he is focussed on radical change for South Africa. This is a significant challenge for such a divided country He loves rugby and endears himself to many through his support of the national game. One day Mandela meets Pienaar – through his wisdom and courage developed over years of hardship and incarceration, he inspires Francois to work hard to lead the team back to world class rugby standards once again, to really put South Africa on the global stage – both in sports and the broader political landscape. The 1995 World Cup arrives and the entire country holds its breath in the hope that the Springboks can do it for South Africa …

This is a good sports movie – if you’re expecting a political drama, you won’t get it here – but you will get an excellent introduction to this highly complex nation and the issues surrounding their political landscape. As Nelson Mandela, Morgan Freeman takes on an almighty challenge, but he really does it justice. His performance is excellent. To have the courage and confidence to emulate such a great man in world significance is marvellous and to be applauded. As Francois Pienaar, Matt Damon is good here too, thankfully his character shows a lot more depth than the grit and determination required to become an elite footballer, which is appreciated. Overall, the story is lightweight on the political issues, but you get the idea. The drama is in the sport, which is done quite well. There are interesting sequences of rugby, but – being a Kiwi and an All Blacks fan from birth – it doesn’t really seem authentic to me. However, the majority of the audience should find it interesting. The interactions between the other staff members who are getting to grips with the new ways of the Mandela Administration are interesting to watch and several performances are worthwhile here – but again, the outcome is more worthy of a television drama than a movie. It’s okay, but it wasn’t until later I realised that this was directed by Clint Eastwood. I have seen several other movies that demonstrate better work from him in my opinion (such as Mystic River“, “The Changelingand “Million Dollar Baby”). For their performances, in 2010 Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon earned Academy Award (Oscar) nominations for their leading and support roles. They also received Golden Globe nominations for this work and Clint Eastwood was nominated for Best Director.  Oh, and … in case you are wondering … Invictus is Latin – it means unconquered, unconquerable and undefeated – it might refer to the state of overcoming and taking control of a place or its people.

Made in 2009. Directed by Clint Eastwood.

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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Movies

 

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Rush

James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) is a young, brash motor racing driver. He’s from a wealthy family and lives the high life – money, girls, parties and fame. His polar opposite and his biggest rival is fellow motor racing driver, Niki Lauda (by Daniel Brühl). The two men have each eschewed their traditional family business, much to the horror of their fathers, to pursue a career in motor racing. They both start out in the lowly ranks of Formula 3 and work their way up to the elite level – Formula One. Their competitiveness brings a fascinating, exciting edge to F1 racing and the crowds love to watch them take huge risks to fight out each race. Their utter determination and dogged focus on “winning at any cost” means their private lives suffer the consequences of such a “devil may care” life – one never thinks ahead and consistently lives on-the-edge, while the other is a cool, calculating, disciplined person who never really developed any relationships. These men fight out the 1976 F1 world championship to its high-energy, life-changing conclusion …

This is a great movie. The true story of these two racing drivers, I was aware of the personalities involved and the basic facts, but not aware of the background story of their competitiveness. It’s fascinating. If you are mildly interested in Formula 1 racing you’ll probably enjoy this. The camerawork is excellent – the viewer is often right inside the head of the driver, definitely well aware of his emotions and the issues involved. It’s just as much about the personalities and determination of the two men as it is about the racing itself. Both Hemsworth and Brühl give strong, stunning and remarkably authentic portrayals of their characters, particularly Niki Lauda – who (during Daniel’s research for the role) provided valuable insight to Brühl on his thoughts, attitudes and general way of thinking. I think some real life footage has been worked into the production also. Ron Howard has done a nice job here. There was a risk that this may turn into a soap opera of the private lives of these high living men, but that doesn’t happen. It remains non-judgemental and presents the issues very well. The ending is very nicely and respectfully done too – I enjoyed it.

Made in 2013. Directed by Ron Howard.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2013 in Movies

 

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Million Dollar Baby

Frankie Dunn (played by Clint Eastwood) is a boxing trainer of many years. He now owns a gym but he has very few proteges as his training approach is cautious. In fact, we watch as a fighter with potential leaves his charge in favour of another trainer prepared to take more chances. Maggie Fitzgerald (by Hilary Swank) has been interested in boxing for some time and she calls into the gym hoping to get an opportunity to box seriously. Of course, at first Frankie won’t take Maggie on – he thinks she’s too old and he doesn’t train female boxers! His boxing mate, former fighter and his gym manager, Eddie Dupris (by Morgan Freeman) sees potential in Maggie’s eagerness and ambition and he supports her. Gradually, Frankie reluctantly agrees to help her and Maggie transforms into a successful boxer.

This movie is much more than just another “boxer makes good” story. Once the plot is developed, the movie actually takes quite a significant turn – one least expected by me – which creates a completely different aspect to the characters and the story.  These three actors are marvellous – Clint Eastwood plays a vulnerable character, alienated from his only daughter – he is so wonderful here. Hilary Swank is usually good and here she is exceptional,as a girl searching for more than just boxing success and Morgan Freeman is as subtle as ever in his support – very well done. The “mood” is very well captured and depicted throughout.

Once again, this confirms that Clint Eastwood has marvellous talent as a director. The film is beautifully directed, shot impeccably and supported by a great musical score that underscores the humanity in the intensely moving conclusion.  Very very good movie.

(Made: Feb 2005)

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Movies

 

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Moneyball

Before I saw this movie I knew nothing about US major league baseball. This is a true story – Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, an ex-ball player who now manages the Oakland Athletics baseball team. It’s 2001 and Billy is trying to compete with the huge budgets of other much larger more high profile teams (like the Boston Red Sox), when his budget is only a third of theirs. They almost reach the Grand Final, but fail at the last hurdle.  In the new sports year, he recruits a crack young analyst, Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) and together they slowly build a competitive team, with resistance from even within his own club at every turn. The football manager (coach) is not a supporter and is very well portrayed (by Philip Seymour Hoffman). The result of Beane’s work with Hill is told in this drama.  I loved this movie – those with knowledge of the actual situation will get much more out if it, no doubt. It’s very good – even if you are not a sports or baseball nut, you will get something from the story I’m sure.  Brad Pitt is very good – there’s something distinctly “Redford-ish” about him in this. It got me in quickly and although it is long (133 mins) it kept me engaged, no time is wasted. Well done.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Movies

 

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Senna

“Senna” is a great movie. It’s a documentary which cobbles together news footage, family videos and snippets from other sports features to tell the story of Brazilian Ayrton Senna’s rise through the motor racing classes to reach Formula 1 and eventually become F1 World Champion.  Senna was unequalled in determination and skill in Formula 1 motor racing – until at 34, he was killed in an F1 Championship race at San Moreno in Italy. This documentary follows his career from his 1982 arrival in Europe until his untimely death in 1994. It is fascinating and will also give a remarkable insight into the sport and the risks, but really only scratches the surface to reveal anything of the man “Senna” himself.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Movies

 

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