Category Archives: Inspirational

Field of Dreams (1989)

If you build it, he will come.

– The Voice

This is the last movie that I saw before my burnout happened over two months, the guy tear-jerker Field of Dreams. There is an unwritten rule that if you are a man and you don’t cry at the end of, you have no soul. That is true. Every boy wants to have one game of catch with their fathers once in their lifetime. Based on the novel, “Shoeless Joe”, it was nominated for three Oscars including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Original Score.

A farmer from Iowa named Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is walking through his field when he hears a disembodied saying, “If you built it, he will come.” He hears the same phrase repeatedly, but he is the only one that hears it. He confesses to his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan) about the phrase that he keeps on hearing. She thinks that maybe it was God talking to him or maybe he is going off the deep end.

Ray randomly questions the townspeople about the meaning of the phrase until he realizes that he has to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield. He thinks that this action would bring a childhood hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, back so he could play one last game. Ray thinks that he is turning into his father (Dwier Brown), a man who played it safe during his life and never took chances.

Ray decided to plow him field, much to the chagrin of the people in the town who think that Ray is bonkers  and would lose his farm. He spends his life savings building the diamond, waiting for something to happen. Months go by with no response until there is a man walking in the diamond. It is Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta). They play a mini game of baseball. When they are done playing, Ray and Joe realize that Joe cannot step foot outside of the diamond. Joe disappears into the cornfield.

Ray’s brother, Mark (Timothy Busfield) thinks that Ray is crazy to think that he could afford the farm when he wiped out most of his crop. The bank is threatening to take away the home. The NY Yankees team from the 1919 World Series come to play ball in the field. Ray, Annie and their daughter, Karin (Gaby Hoffmann) can see them, but Mark cannot.

Ray has enough to deal with when the voice tells him to “ease his pain”. He thought he meant the radical novelist turned social recluse, Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones). He tries to kidnap him to take him to a ball game where he didn’t have the opportunity to do when his father.

I might have remembered the movie differently, because I didn’t get the same feeling with movie like I did when I was younger. I bawled at the end of the movie, but I had a heartwarming feeling by this last viewing. Hmm… I guess, the magic of the film is gone.

Judgment: It’s still a fun ride, but its lost its luster.

Rating: 7/10

Monsieur Ibrahim (2004)

A man’s heart is like a caged bird. When you dance, your heart sings… and then rises to heaven.

– Monsieur Ibrahim

After the utter disappointment of Doctor Zhivago, I wanted to watch one of Omar Sharif’s recent flicks. I picked up Monsieur Ibrahim thinking that it couldn’t get any worse that the three-hour monstrosity that I just saw. I knew that it was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. I was surprised that I enjoyed the movie, very much.

Living in poor neighborhood in Paris, a young Jewish boy named Moses (Pierre Boulanger) is trying to find his way in the world. He thinks that it is chasing the local prostitutes would make him a man when he turned sixteen. He is living with his father (Gilbert Melki) that is very hard on him. The father compares Momo as he is nicknamed to his older brother, like he is not good enough of a child. The mother is noticeably absent in his life.

Momo buys the daily groceries to cook for the two them across the street at the conveience store of Monsieur Ibrahim Deneji (Omar Sharif). Sometimes he does shoplift a couple of items because they have that much money to spend on food. Momo thinks that Monsieur thinks that he is slick about his pilfering, but Monsieur Ibrahim is a wise man who knows everything.

Monsieur Ibrahim and Momo begin to have a close friendship. Momo becomes a surrogate son to him when Momo’s father abandons him and he has to fend for himself. Their lives are forever changed as they grow a common bond with each other. Momo teaches Ibrahim how to be young again and Ibrahim teaches Momo about life and the meaning of it.

This movie is very imitate in its storytelling that I wanted to get to know the characters more. I wanted to have a Ibrahim in my life to teach me the ways of the world and how to go about it.

Judgment: This movie will make have a deep appreciation for the older people in your lives.

Rating: 8/10

The Great Debaters (2007)

I am here to help you to find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.

– Melvin B. Tolson

I haven’t seen The Great Debaters since it was in theaters at the end of 2007 when it nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Picture. I went to see it because it had the Oprah stamp of approval on it. It was there. I liked the movie, but then it waned when I heard if this movie was based on any semblance of truth.

Back in 1935, a small Marshall, Texas college named Wiley is home to one of the best debate teams in the state. They want to prove themselves that they could be the best debaters of the entire country. The outspoken Professor Tolson (Denzel Washington) wants to ensemble the best team that he could find to carry out his goal.

Forty-five students auditioned for only four spots on the team. The lucky four are the core debaters; the troublemaker Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), the bookish Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) and the alternates, the fourteen year old prodigy, James Farmer Jr (Denzel Whitaker) and the first female on the team, transfer student, Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett).

The chemistry between the team members is shaky at best when the shy James likes Samantha, but the alpha male, Henry swoops in to get her first. James, Sr. (Forest Whitaker) does not take to kindly of having a girl on the team to distract Junior from keeping his eyes on the prize.

There is something deeper with this story when James Jr follows Professor Tolson one night after a party to find him leading a sharecroppers meeting calling for a union. It is raided by the police and James swears to never speak a word to anyone about it.

The debate team first tries to challenge the top Negro colleges.  After a series of victories, it can open doors for debating the best White colleges going all the way to the grand daddy of them all, Harvard.

The reason that I have hesitation with this movie is because even though this movie is based on true events. Some of the people in the story were made up or an accumulation of several people. The only one that were real are the Farmers and Professor Tolson. The debate team did not challenge Harvard. They went against the University of Southern California and they could not be declared winners, because they were not considered in debate society at the time.

A movie about people debating is nice to see it snippets, but not a whole movie about it.

Judgment: I know that it’s supposed to be inspirational, but something was lost in translation for me.

Rating: 6/10

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

I decided to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed, my imagination and my memory.

– Jean-Dominique Bauby

I have wanted to watch Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for years, but I have not had the chance to watch until I saw it at the local library. The #220 Movie of All-Time on IMDb was nominated for four Oscars including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. I was so happy that I watched this film.

Based on the book of the same name, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly recounts the harrowing story of French Elle editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) who was living the life when he is suddenly struck by a massive stroke. He wakes up after a three-week coma in a hospital in Bereck-sur-Mer. The audience could hear Jean-Do talking, but he does not realize that he cannot speak or move anything on his body, except his left eye.

Most of the movie is shown at Jean-Do’s perspective. Very first person. The audience could connect with the lead character this way and gets a taste of his new state of being. His personal doctor Lepage (Patrick Chesnais) discusses with him that he had a cerebrovascular episode that rendered him a vegetable except for blinking in his left eye, otherwise called “Locked-In Syndrome.”

The staff starts the rehabilitation program to help him regain some range of motion. You notice more and more that Jean-Do is always internally flirting with his female speech therapist, Henriette Roi (Marie-Josée Croze). He communicates with blinking once for “yes” and two for “no”, which progresses to Henriette teaching the alphabet in order of frequently used.

Jean-Do does not want to live with Locked-in Syndrome. He wants to die. He has momentary glimpses of his former life being the toast of the town, having a family with his companion, Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner) and being in love with his mistress, Inès (Agathe de La Fontaine). He recounts his many regrets and missed opportunities in his life. Jean-Do wants to tell his story. He decided to dictate his memoirs through Claude (Anne Consigny) one letter at a time.

I cannot imagine anybody except for an artist like Schnabel to make this movie happen. He paints a picture of sorrow, heartbreak, regret, but ultimately it is hopeful. No matters what life throws at you, you can overcome all obstacles. This speaks to the determination of Jean-Do, who did not want to exist, he wanted to leave his mark on life.

The cinematography transfixes the audience to the mindset of Jean-Do, to experience what he is experiencing. It was a great piece of cinema to gaze upon. You would think that hearing the alphabet being repeated a million times would annoy the hell out of you, but it didn’t.

Judgment: This is a perfect example of art imitating life.

Rating: 9/10

The King’s Speech (2010)

Because I bloody well stammer!

– King George VI

Colin Firth is coming into his own as an actor with his nuisanced performance in last year’s A Single Man. He is getting more notice for his latest movie, The King’s Speech. Personally, I thought the movie was going to be a boring movie about British people talking for two hours. It’s a lot more than that. Will it win Best Picture of the year? No. That doesn’t mean that the movie was horrible. It’s a solid movie.

Halfway through this movie, I did not realize that the story was about Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI (Firth). It deals with his struggle with a speech impediment that he has dealt with since he was a little boy. The movie starts in 1924 when he had to give a speech to his fellow countrymen. It does not go very well. He is embarrassed about his stuttering.

During the years afterward, Albert, Duke of York, before he was would be king, tried everything under the sun to get rid of his stutter, including smoking and stuffing his mouth with marbles. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) goes out to search for the perfect speech therapist to help out her frustrated husband. She thinks that she has found him in Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an over-the-hill Australian theater actor. She has to go under the pseudonym of Johnson to not distract their royalty status.

The Duke is skeptical about the unorthodox methods of Mr. Logue. Their first session together is a disaster when Lionel tried to be on a level playing field with The Duke. They wanted to be on a first name basis with the Duke calling him, “Lionel” and Lionel calling The Duke his family nickname, “Bertie.” Bertie reluctantly agree to one session with him and is surprised about what he could do. As their sessions go on, Lionel tries to pinpoint the exact cause of his stuttering.

I don’t know what it is, but I think I have a bias of British movies. Is it because it deals with the monarchy that I have no knowledge of? Is is the accents? The stuffy attire? Who knows? There were some bring points with the movie. Colin Firth is brining his A game here. I have never seen a photo of King George VI and I have no idea what he sounded like during his speech, but I felt fine that he exposed a flaw in the perfect monarchy. Geoffrey Rush’s quirky performance was the standout for me. I thought Helena Bonham Carter was nice, but her character didn’t have much gravitas. She was the doting wife and that’s it. Lastly, it was hilarious to me that Guy Pearce would be playing Firth’s older brother, David.

Judgment: It’s a solid movie about a part of history that we never knew. It tells the story of the unsung hero, Lionel Logue.

Rating: ****

Invictus (2009)

This country’s changed. We need to change as well.

– François Pienaar

Since the announcement of Clint Eastwood on the next LAMB in the Director’s Chair, I am trying to watch more of his movies for the upcoming three-day fest. I thought I might kill two birds with one stone with seeing Invictus. Based on the novel, “Play the Enemy” by John Carlin, the movie tells the story of Nelson Mandela trying to unite the nation after Apartheid. This movie is getting some critical acclaim. I don’t see why it does.

Morgan Freeman channels Mandela as the movie chronicles five years in the life of Mandela beginning on February 11, 1990 when he was released after two decades of imprisonment. The country is torn apart by a civil war brewing between the Africans and the Afrikaans.

Mandela becomes president and when takes the office some of the white staff threaten to quit. The remnants of racial tensions are still thick in the air. Mandela needed to find a way to unit the country of South Africa as one. He goes to a rugby match where the Springbok rugby team, headed by François Pienaar (Matt Damon). The team is not doing their best.

Mandela wants to meet with the captain of the Springbok team to discuss how they could help the nation heal from Apartheid. The encouragement of Mandela inspires the team to train for the World Cup in 1995. Mandela almost pushes his presidential duties aside to focus on the rugby team and make them succeed.

I don’t know jack shit about rugby. It looks like American football to me without the figure hugging spandex. The biggest problem of the movie was that. Americans don’t care about sports that know nothing about. I thought I was going to see a movie about Mandela struggle to readjust to civilian life after a lengthy imprisonment, but I have to research that myself.

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are getting some critical acclaim for this film. I thought that they were fine. Freeman looked like Mandela, but his accent slipped in and out when he monologued about retaining the Springbok’s colors or when Freeman did his signature voice-over. That took me out.

Matt Damon’s character was just there. He was the pawn for Mandela. Move here. Move there. You can win the World Cup if you do as I say. Mandela felt like he was obsessed with the team that he would risk his health and even the state of country in order for the Springbok to succeed.

I thought François was written like a caricature. There was nothing remarkable about him. I didn’t believe that he would lead a rugby team to the World Cup. (Oh, please, it’s not a spoiler. It’s history.) I couldn’t help but wonder if Matt Damon has a prosthetic nose. If he did, it was distracting.

Eastwood still delivers stunning visuals of the multiple fans in the Ellis Park Stadium watching the Springbok play. The mix of shadows and light is always great, but the film as a whole felt empty. In the climactic match, there was a lot of slow motion. Too much slow motion. Even the spectators watching the game were in slow motion. Why? That match was as slow as molasses.

Judgment: The movie was awkward, clunky and uninspiring. I was disappointed.

Rating: **

The Blind Side (2009)

You threaten my son, you threaten me.

– Leigh Ann Tuohy

It was not my intention to see The Blind Side, because everyone knows how much I can’t stand Hollywood inspirational movie coming out during the holidays to tug at your heartstrings. Recently, Sandra Bullock has been getting some serious critical acclaim for her lead performance. Against my nature, I decided to watch what the fuss what all about.

I had a heavy bias walking into this movie. The ultra-giving white person helps the disadvantaged black youth achieve greatness thought some kind of sport. It has been seen time and time again.

I’m not a big sports fan to begin with, but I put my feelings aside to watch the true story of Michael “Big Mike” Oher (Quinton Aaron), a disadvantaged black youth that is crashing on the couch of a friend since his mother, Denise (Adriane Lenox) is strung out a crack. Mr. Hamilton (Omar Dorsey) wants to get his own son, Steven (Paul Amandi) into a good school with Big Mike in tow. With his lack of motivation for schoolwork and his limited intelligence, the Wingate Christian School Coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon) wants to give Big Mike a chance to succeed at something.

Mrs. Hamilton doesn’t want Big Mike to be sleeping on the couch anymore. With no place to go, he befriends the Tuohy family riding in their brand new Lexus SUV when he is walking in the freezing rain. Compassion in Leigh Ann Tuohy’s heart, they decide to take him into their huge mansion during the Thanksgiving holiday.

After that one night, Leigh Ann brings Mike back to his old neighborhood where he learns that his mother is evicted from her home. Now with no home to go to, he ends up staying with the Tuohys on a permanent basis. Leigh Ann learns that Michael has “protective instincts” that if his grades could improve than he could compete in football. He has the right build to be left tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side.

By the end credits, I fought so hard to hate this movie, but there was a certain charm about this movie. The actions of Michael on the football field when he tackled opponents was hilarious as well as the performance by Jae Head as Sean Junior.

I am not saying that this movie is best movie of the year. It’s not horrible either. It’s right in the middle for me. As far, Sandra Bullock’s performance, I can see why she is getting some attention, but I’m getting an Erin Brockovich: Part Deux vibe again. Put on a blonde wig, have skintight clothing and talk in some crazy Memphis accent aka act like a slut and you will get some Oscar attention. Do actresses have to demean themselves so they could get a shred of credibility in Tinseltown? Something needs to be done about that.

Judgment: Another average inspirational holiday movie that is supposed to make you adopt a big black boy.

Rating: ***

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

pursuit_of_happyness

This part of my life… this part right here? This is called “happyness.”

– Chris Gardner

I actively avoided watching The Pursuit of Happyness, because I don’t like those syrupy-knock-you-over-the-head-with-its-message kind of films. Will Smith was nominated for an Oscar for this movie. I can see why, but the overall movie tries at your patience.

It is inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner (Smith), a man struggling to keep his family afloat in San Francisco during the early 80s. When we first meet him, he is a salesman that is selling portable bone density scanners to try to pay for rent.

Chris spent their whole life savings into machines that doctors deemed to be a luxury item. His family is behind in their bills. His distraught wife, Linda (Thandie Newton) is working double shifts to try to keep the family, including helping to send their son, Christopher (Jaden Smith) to daycare in Chinatown.

Chris tries to sell off the last six of the scanners while he tries to better himself by applying for an internship at a brokerage firm, Dean, Witter & Reynolds. He tries to get a way in the broker trainee program by buttering up to one of the executives, Mr. Jay Twistle (Brian Howe).

Chris is very charismatic person. When he sees that Twistle is trying to solve the Rubik cube — which was a hot trend in 1981— Chris impresses Twistle with his math wizardry and solves it. In subsequent meetings with Twistle and Martin Frohm (James Karen), he charms them and become a hard worker on cold calls to potential customers.

Just when his life is looking up, everything else is crumbling down around him. Linda is tired of Chris’ empty promises about leaving the salesman stuff behind and leaves for NYC. She wants to take Christopher with her, but Chris has a rule that child should know his father. He wants Christopher to stay with him.

Being three months behind in rent, the landlord kicks him out on street. With no place to live, Chris looks for different places to live when he is enrolled the six months internship program that could led to a permanent position with the company. Father and son try to stick together through a difficult time in their lives.

Some parts of the movie that bothered me, like the running gag of having Chris chase after people that took his scanners. Be prepared to see a lot of running, voice-overs and references to Thomas Jefferson. This takes place San Francisco; he actually bumps into the hippie or the guy that think the scanner is a time machine that took his scanners. As much as I hated Jayden in The Day the Earth Stood Still, he was equally as annoying here. Asking questions repeatedly got on my last damn nerve. Shut up already!

I supposed that this movie could be cathartic to the people affected by the recession about the past year, but other than that, this is just another saccharine movie that toys with your feelings.

Judgment: Another inspirational movie that doesn’t inspire you. Epic fail!

Rating: **

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

untitled

My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone else was agin’, I was gettin’ younger… all alone.

– Benjamin Button

Nominated for thirteen Academy awards last year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was not on my list of films to see at that time. It is currently #210 on Top 250 of All Time on IMDb. I told friends of mine that I refused to see the film, because of the obvious comparisons to the emotionally manipulative Forrest Gump. After watching the Criterion Edition of this movie, Gump was at least interesting to watch.

Eric Roth scripted both movies, the movie is told in flashback from the end of WWI when Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is born to the time before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In 2005, a daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond) is at the bedside on her dying mother, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), where the story of Benjamin is told through a journal that he kept throughout his life.

The movie recounts when he was born after WWI ended when his mother dies in childbirth. His father, Mr. Button (Jason Flemyng), abandons Benjamin on the doorstep of an old folk’s home. A young black couple, Queenie and Tizzy (Taraji P. Henson, Mahershalashashbaz Ali) find him and raises Benjamin as their own child.

As the movie drones on, it delves into how Benjamin and Daisy met, Benjamin traveling the world, the “soul mates” coming together and them realizing that they can’t be together in the end. It retells all of the history happening around Benjamin. He is just there to witness it. He doesn’t participate in it.

This film was clearly made for Oscars. It’s grandiose. It has the magical, fantastical elements with the central hook of Benjamin aging backward while everyone is aging forward. The makeup, the digital imaging, the costumes through the different periods of time, the swelling Alexandre Desplat score, the saturation of the screen. It’s all there. Somehow, it doesn’t work.

I understand that the point of the film is that the people that come in and out of your life shape who you are. “You never know what’s coming for you.” It was the motto of the movie like “Life is like a box chocolates” for Gump. It was a defective clone.

This movie meandered through subplots that bored me to tears. Do we need to see that guy getting struck by lightning? What’s up with the relationship between Benjamin and Elizabeth Abbot (Tilda Swinton)? Do we need that “what if” montage of Daisy in Paris?

There was always little hints about time with the countless clocks around, and especially the clock that goes backwards that was made by the blind man. The inexplicable appearances of hummingbirds where there shouldn’t be any.

Reading some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story that this movie was based on, I got the sense that the story would be a comedy of errors rather than a biopic about a fictional person.

The characters were not that interesting to root for anyone. They were bland. The simple guy, the ice queen, the deadbeat dad, the magical Negro. There is nothing of substance here.

Judgment: An Oscar baity movie that misses the heart of the central premise.

Rating: **1/2

The Soloist (2009)

soloist

I’ve never loved anything the way he loves music.

– Steve Lopez

Based on the book of the same name, The Soloist tells the true story of Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a columnist for the Los Angeles Times that has a bicycle accident in the beginning of the movie. While he recovers from his head injuries, he befriends a homeless man, Nathaniel Ayers (Jaime Foxx), who plays the violin with only two strings. Steve is taken with Nathaniel’s musical prowess. He wants to make Nathaniel the subject for his column, “Points West”.

In subsequent encounters, Steve learns that Nathaniel was student at Julliard in the early 70s when he dropped out because he began to suffer from bouts of paranoid schizophrenia. Steve tries to help Nathaniel to overcome the illness that crippled his musical genius, but instead he kinda takes advantage of him.

This picture comes from director Joe Wright who brought us the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, which I enjoyed immensely and a film I loathed, Atonement. This movie would be in the middle of those two. There is nothing spectacular about this film. It’s just another one of those inspirational cookie cutter type movies that was supposed to pull at your heartstrings. It fails on so many different levels.

The story was not compelling to hook me. Being a sucker for classic music, the score by Dario Marianelli swelled so much that you want to press the mute button. Some sequences rambled on to no end, including Jaime’s performance. There was acid trip type scene that irritated the hell out of me. The sequences that Nathaniel was hearing the voices at Julliard were unnecessary.

This movie was supposed to come out November 2008, but it was bumped to April of this year, because it wasn’t ready to be released. Everyone knows that is code for a dud. That’s what this movie was.

Judgment: Buy the soundtrack to movie, not the movie itself.

Rating: **1/2

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