Archive for the ‘Morgan Freeman’ Category

MOVIE: Red (2010)

February 8, 2011

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA operative living a quiet, boring life in the suburbs.  The highlight of his month is when his pension check arrives in the mail — a pension check he promptly tears in half so he can call to report it missing.  On the other end of the phone is the same woman each time, a clerk named Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), and over the last year or so, she and Frank have talked dozens of times and begun to develop obvious crushes on each other.

Those crushes are why, when a team of black-ops assassins are sent to Frank’s house one night to kill him, he immediately heads to Kansas City to get Sarah, realizing he’s undoubtedly been under surveillance for weeks, making her a target too.

Though she’s initially a little freaked out (to say the least — Frank essentially has to kidnap her, though he quite politely, I thought, vacuums her apartment for her before they leave), her own mid-life crisis has left her yearning for adventure, and when she realizes Frank’s telling the truth about his past as a spy and the present prices on both their heads, it’s not long before she’s pretty much game for anything.

They begin by looking into the recent, seemingly connected murder of a New York Times reporter, quickly discovering she was in possession of a mysterious list of names that included Frank’s as well as a dozen others, most of whom are now dead.

And that’s when Frank decides they’re gonna need some help; it’s time to “get the band back together” and enlist the assistance of his old colleagues — the savvy Joe (Morgan Freeman), the paranoid-delusional Marvin (John Malkovich, who should only ever play comically crazy action heroes from now on, if you ask me, because he’s so delightfully good at it), the classy Victoria (Helen Mirren), and her old beau Ivan the Russian (Brian Cox).

Together, they trace the hit list back to an incident in South America in the 1980s, a mass murder of civilians covered up by the son of an American senator who now wants to erase all traces of his crime.  Dodging a determined CIA agent (the dashing Karl Urban), the team puts together a complicated scheme to enact payback, stop the villain, and, you know, have a little good old-fashioned spy-game fun.

This is a totally nutty flick, based on a graphic novel and featuring loads of goofy comic book-style special effects, as well as a marvelous cast and a frequently hilarious script (I loved the post card theme as well — cute).  It’s not perfect, but it’s good-natured and extremely fun, and one I’ll definitely be pulling out the next time I’m in need of a hearty laugh.

You know, like tomorrow.  For example.  My copy is en route from Amazon as we speak.

Highly recommended!

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Action, Comedy
Cast:  Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Julian McMahon, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox, Karl Urban

MOVIE: Batman: The Dark Knight (2008)

December 31, 2008

I’ve been chewing on this movie for several days now, trying to think of some coherent and organized things to say about it.  But the more I ponder, the more I’m realizing this is really a movie I’m going to need to see more than once to fully appreciate, in part because I was so distracted most of the time by the brilliance of Heath Ledger’s Joker that I know I missed some important elements of the themes and plot.  So, pardon me if the following paragraphs don’t make complete sense — you get what you get, yo.

Surely you are all familiar with the concept of Batman, and his never-ending battles against a variety of bad guys in Gotham City, so I feel comfortable skipping over the plot synopsis.  What I really want to talk about in regards to this film — the best so far in the entire Batman series, old and new, in my opinion  — is its challenge to the typical comic book “good vs. evil” story.  What used to be fairly black and white has here merged to a rainy shade of gray, as characters on both sides of the battle muck around constantly with both our sympathies and our outrage.

At first, the “evil” guy (The Joker) seems like a monster of the purest form.  He kills for kicks and cackles with glee as he does so.  But it’s not long into the film before he manages to snag some  sympathy when it’s revealed that his scars — both mental and physical — are the result of some horrific childhood abuse by his father.

And the “good” guy?  Batman?  Well, let’s just say he does a whole lotta stuff he probably shouldn’t have.  In fact, it seemed to me that The Joker’s primary focus was in challenging the ethics of others — forcing people, especially widely-pronounced “good” people, to make choices that it was  almost impossible for them to make correctly.  Sometimes they still managed to; other times, not so much.  But no matter which way they went in any given situation, we were constantly challenged to evaluate both the bad guys and the good guys in a new way.

Ultimately I think the entire movie serves as an ethical challenge for us, the viewers, as we struggle with a variety of questions that chomp onto us like a crocodile, spinning us around and refusing to let go.  (How’s THAT for an analogy, yo?)  The Joker and Two-Face are people who have suffered greatly and turned to evil either as a way to process and cope with their pain, or because what they’ve suffered has somehow left them irreparably damaged, right?  It’s almost impossible, therefore, NOT to feel a great deal of sympathy for them (for me, anyway).  Yet how much sympathy are you “allowed” to feel for a man who “just wants to watch the world burn”?  Is it okay to feel a lot?  Is it okay to feel none?

Now rethink your stance as you recall that Batman himself had a childhood that was significantly less-than-peachy.  Both the good guys AND the bad guys in this film are the way they are because of extreme trauma.  If two people suffer the same fate and one comes out “good” and the other “evil,” does that negate the suffering of the “evil” one somehow?  I often get the sense that people think it does — that it means the “evil” one could’ve chosen good and wasn’t strong enough to, or didn’t fight hard enough to, and that, in the face of their destructive response to it, their suffering thus loses all value.

But is it actually more complicated than that?  Does it boil down to brain chemistry or some other biological factor involved in the coping mechanism, something over which neither person might have any actual control?  Or was it a series of additional external factors — a friendly person, a kind word, support of some sort given or lacked?  How much blame does the bad guy deserve for his actions?  Lots?  None?  Some?

I can’t stop thinking about these questions.  It sort of reminds me of my reaction to Sean Penn in  Dead Man Walking, actually, another movie that took the generic simplicity of the “good vs. evil” concept and sent it flying arse over teapot.

Another major theme in this film is, of course, 9/11 and its aftermath.  The Joker certainly displays some parallels to a 9/11 terrorist, at least if you think in terms of how we perceived those terrorists (we en masse, by the way, not individually or personally).  We saw al Qaeda as having motivations that made no sense to us — i.e. just wanting to watch the world burn, for no comprehensible reason.  And Batman himself demonstrates the immense potential absolute power has to corrupt absolutely.  When faced with the choice of protecting Gotham City citizens’ privacy or locating and taking out The Joker, for example, Batman can’t help but think the sacrifice of personal privacy is worth the end result.  It works out okay in the movie because Batman is a comic book “good” guy.  But in the real world, this is the exact type of reasoning that brought us the Patriot Act (and far, far worse).

I guess what I find the most interesting about this film, as well as the recent Iron Man movie, is the depth to which the good guys have started to go.  It used to be that the good guys were just The Good Guys TM.  They were good because. . . they were good.  And good was right.  And right was good.

But Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are complicated, troubled people.  And I think it’s this depth that has given the recent spate of superhero movies such a sudden, broad appeal.  These stories are no longer just for comic book geeks or action movie buffs — they’re films we can all relate to and learn something from.  Beautifully and thoughtfully made, they challenge us in ways we’re not used to action movies doing.  It’s nothing less than absolutely thrilling.

As for Christian Bale — meh.  I couldn’t help but feel like anybody could have played Batman in this installment and it would’ve made little difference to the character.  Mostly, I spent my time during Bale’s scenes fighting the urge to toss him a Ricola and inquire about the tragic loss of his upper lip.  But I’m kinda snarky that way — best to just ignore me on the subject of Bale, as well you all should know by now.

And as for Heath Ledger, all I can say right now is this:  Goddamn you, you stupid, fraking genius.  If you were alive right now, I’d kick you in the shins for being dead.  Frak, frak, hell, double-f’in-shite.

(Why yes, I AM still flailing around in the “anger”  state of grief, thank you for asking.)

p.s. Gary Oldman rulz.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Science Fiction
Cast:  Christian “No Upper Lip” Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Anthony Michael Hall, William Fitchner, Michael Caine

MOVIE: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

February 27, 2008

A couple of days ago, I said the movie Sunshine was a flick made for people who like it when a movie inspires them to think in addition to just entertaining them.

When it comes to this film, I’d say that’s the understatement of the year.

This intriguing drama/mystery is about a 4 year-old girl named Amanda McCready who has been kidnapped out of a low-income house in South Boston.  Her mother, Helene, is a drug addict/prostitute, and doesn’t seem all that upset about her disappearance, so the girl’s aunt and uncle decide to try to enlist some outside help.  They hire a pair of private detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennero (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan), and though they primarily specialize in tracking down deadbeats and have never worked on anything as serious as a kidnapping before, they agree to try to do what they can to help.

Lucky for everybody but the kidnappers, Patrick grew up in Southie and despite his disarmingly youthful and innocent face, the guy’s got some serious connections in the underworld.  His search for clues leads him to a variety of bad dudes, mostly drug dealers with the occasional pedophile thrown in for kicks, and it’s not long before he begins to sniff out a trail.  He’s also managed to impress the police captain assigned to the case, Capt. Doyle (Morgan Freeman), who, despite brief initial reluctance, agrees to help, instructing his two detectives, Remy and Nick (Ed Harris and John Ashton), to work with Patrick and Angie as closely as they can.

Of course, nothing makes me more suspicious than a police captain who eagerly embraces two rookie private eyes, so that was the first clue this wasn’t going to be your average cops-and-kidnappers crime drama.  As the film progresses, more and more little hints that things are not quite what they seem are dropped here and there, allowing the savvy viewer to start piecing together their own theory about what’s truly going on.

What I really appreciated about this film, though, is that while I managed to figure out the “who” and “how” of the mystery before the ending, I got the “why” completely wrong.  That just doesn’t happen that often and yet, by the time all was revealed, I could look back and see exactly how I could’ve figured it out if I’d just been paying slightly closer attention in a few scenes.  All the pieces were there — I had just missed a few of the corners.  I love it when that happens — when a movie actually manages to outplay, outwit, and outlast me.  It’s a rare occurrence these days and thus, something to be wholeheartedly embraced.

On top of it all, that “why” — boy, did it ever make me think.  It took me days after seeing this film to finally resolve my feelings about its ending.  I won’t say anything about what happens, of course, except to say that though my instantaneous “gut” reaction was that Patrick makes the obviously-correct choice, I’ve since realized I can’t really say for sure that I would’ve made the same decision in his place.  And, more interestingly, I also can’t say whether I think that makes me courageous or a coward.  I could go either way — I think we probably all could.  When was the last time a movie made you feel both morally smug and utterly ashamed, all at the same time?  For me, I think it was probably Dead Man Walking — and never before or since until now.

This movie is classy, smart, and thoughtful.  It’s clear from the first ten minutes that it’s being made by someone who knows South Boston intimately — not only Casey Affleck, of course, by also his director, big brother Ben — and I really felt myself sinking completely into the setting and the characters.  It’s a movie that has stayed with me for over a week now, and I don’t sense I’ll be shaking elements of it for quite a while to come. 

My only complaint is that I found Michelle Monaghan to be almost superfluous here — she could easily have been omitted from the film completely and I don’t think we would’ve missed her.  And I can’t tell if that’s a flaw with the role itself, or if it was just that Michelle didn’t have the oomph needed to make an impression on me as strong as the one Casey Affleck did.  In any case, her character was there to provide a balance to Patrick — someone NOT of the Southie world, someone with a different opinion about what’s “right” in the situation they’re thrown into, etc.  And I just didn’t feel she managed to provide that balance quite as strongly as I would’ve liked.

Other than that, though, I really can’t quibble with a thing.  Definitely one to  see — everybody’s been talking about this one for a good reason.  By the way, I also just saw Casey Affleck in the new Jesse James movie, so watch for my review of that one in another day or two. 

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Drama, Mystery
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Robert Wahlberg, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan