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The Special Relationship (2010)

I had a taped showing of The Special Relationship on the DVR for a couple of months before I had to delete it. I happened upon the flick when I was flipping through the channels. At first, I thought that the movie was about the relationship that landed Bill Clinton in hot water during the latter part of his second term. I forgot that the movie is about the relationship between Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Yeah! (Branden says sarcastically.)

Starting in 1996, the movie is about newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) having a meeting with US President, Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid). They want to join forces to advance a democratic, progressive way a country is run.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan tried to portray these two political factions from opposite sides of the ocean. It should the everyday lives of the Blairs and Clintons. Their relationship is tested when the Monica Lewinsky scandal reared its ugly head. Clinton thinks that the scandal would die down quickly, but it snowballed out of control.

Usually, I’m not keen on political movies. This movie proves that way of thinking. Does this story need to be told? I lived through that time of the country where the scandal was all on the minds of the media and the country. You would imagine that leaders of the country would be friendly with each other. I felt that I didn’t learn anything from the movie. Maybe the next generation could get some enjoyment out of it.

The only saving grace with this movie is Michael Sheen as Blair, because he has played him in The Queen and the British TV movie, The Deal. He knows the character inside and out. He was believable. Quaid on the other hand was a parody of Clinton. I enjoyed John Travolta’s Clinton-isms in Primary Colors than in this movie. Hope Davis as Hilary Clinton was bland. Nuff said.

Judgment: Skip this flick.

Rating: 3/10

Blood Diamond (2006)

In America, it’s bling bling. But out here it’s bling bang.

— Danny Archer

Blood Diamond was a movie that I intentionally stayed away from when it was released in 2006 ,because of the overt political message that slapping you upside the head with it. I did see the ending of the movie when I was flipping the channels one day. If I saw the ending that liked it, I should see the rest of it. The movie is an unflinching look at a war zone, but the message is heavy handed.

Taking place in Sierra Leone circa 1999, the story mainly focused on a civil war between the people over the control of diamond fields there. Many people have died, even though no one of them has actually seen a diamond. Ambassador Walker (Stephen Collins) tells a panel that the Africans have been killing themselves over precious resources for years. Now they have turned to diamonds as their next source of strife. The blood diamonds are purchased for weapons that made the civil war drag on. He wants to prohibit the purchase of conflict diamonds. The US makes up the majority of diamond sales.

A fisherman, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Honsou) walks with his only son, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers) from school, when he sees a bunch of soldiers from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) gunning down men, women and children in their village of Shenge. Solomon tries to save his family from the ongoing massacre, but he is captured while they escape. The reason behind the shooting is that the rebels don’t the people to vote to change the way things were. Solomon is sent as labor to mine diamonds. While at the mines, Solomon finds a 100 carat light pink diamond. He buries it, but it caught when the Sierra Leone troops attack rebels and captures alike. Shoot first, ask questions later. He is taken for being rebel in their eyes.

A Rhodesian diamond smuggler, Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) pretends to be with National Geographic to cross into Liberia with the conflict diamonds placed inside the necks of goats. He is doing this assignment for Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo) that is working the large diamond exporters, Rudolf Van De Kaap (Marius Weyers) and Rupert Simmons (Michael Sheen) to supply the money for the never-ending conflict. (Getting confusing for you. I should.)

Archer is promptly arrested and taken to the same prison with Solomon is held. The person that captured Solomon, Captain Poison (David Harewood) announces to everyone including Danny that he buried the diamond. Danny is bailed out by his friend, Nabil (Jimi Mistry) to convince Coetzee, Van De Kaap and Simmons to split the cost of the pink diamond Solomon has found.

At a local bar, Danny meets a journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly). She tries to get information about Van De Kaap. How are the diamonds being exported from Liberia where there are not diamond mines? She wants his help to expose Van De Kaap and Simmons for their wheeling and dealing; names, dates, and number accounts of buyers of the conflict diamonds to take them down.

When Solomon is bailed out, he tries to find his family at various refugee camps. They are nowhere to be found. Still on the run, another group of rebels have taken Dia from his family. He is beaten and brainwashed into being a part of the child soldiers by Captain Poison.

Danny tracks down Solomon to find the location of the diamond that he buried. Split the cost of the diamond fifty/fifty to help get Solomon his family back and Danny enough money to pay off Colonel. They enlist the help of Maddy to ensure that they succeed in finding his family and recovering the diamond.

I have heard about the dealing with conflict diamonds prior to watching this movie. I didn’t know the extent of what was going on at the time. Here is another example as why the Western world doesn’t care about Africans. Just like what was dramatized in Hotel Rwanda and The Last King of Scotland. Massive atrocities have been happening and nobody did a damn thing to stop it. It’s still happening. I do hate it when the point is donkey-punching me every five minutes. We get it, Ed Zwick!

The movie is long for such a heavy subject. I thought some of the sequences dragged a bit too long. The romance plotline between Maddy and Danny was completely trite. Why does that need to be in there? Why is it every time that Solomon is about to get killed a militia comes in to wipe out everything moving? He survives.

This film was nominated for five Oscars including Best Actor for DiCaprio and Best Supporting Actor for Hounsou. I thought they were good, but I didn’t think it was worthy of recognition in my opinion.

Judgment: There is a good story under all the political red tape.

Rating: ****

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?

— The Mad Hatter

It’s been awhile seen I reviewed a movie, but it’s nice to get back to the swing of things with Tim Burton’s take of Alice in Wonderland. There had been many iterations of this movie for almost a hundred years. Now, modern audiences have a 3D extravaganza that is tearing up the box office. I did not see this movie in 3D. It was a good thing I did, because this movie would more unbearable to watch.

This movie is a continuation of the original story by Lewis Carroll; Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now nineteen-years-old. She has strange dreams from her time in Wonderland, but her father Charles Kingsleigh (Marton Csokas) dismissed them as such until the day he died. He left Alice and his wife, Helen (Lindsay Duncan) virtually penniless.

The two arrive at the house of Lord and Lady Ascot (Tim Pigott-Smith, Geraldine James) for what it seems like a social gathering. It turns that their son, Hamish (Leo Bill) is going to ask Alice to marry him. Alice thinks that she cannot possibly marry a man that she doesn’t love. Throughout the day, she thought that she saw a rabbit with a top coat. She decides to follow it instead and fall into the seemingly endless rabbit hole.

Alice believes that she is dreaming the whole time that she is in Wonderland. There are voices asking if this was the same Alice that came thirteen years ago. Looking around this seemingly unfamiliar place, Alice meets up with the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Tweedledee, Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), Dormouse (Barbara Windsor) and other strange creatures of Wonderland, who are trying to figure out if they found the right Alice.

They take her to the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) that is smoking a hookah is trying to test her to see that she is the same Alice as before. If she was, she needs to find the inner strength she had when she was six to fulfill a prophecy for a chose warrior to help defeat Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee), a dragon that belongs to The Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter) who usurped his sister, The White Queen’s (Anne Hathaway) kingdom shortly after Alice left.

The Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover) and the Red Army try to capture the group with a white monster called a Bandersnatch, but Dormouse plucked out one of its eyeballs to allow Alice to escape deeper into the woods. The Knave of Hearts retrieved the scroll and brings it back with the Tweedles back to the Red Queen. He tells her about the prophecy. The Red Queen wants to find Alice before the prophecy can be fulfilled.

Wondering through the forest alone, Alice meets the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) that convinces her to follow the sly cat to the place with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is at with the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse) having another tea party. The Mad Hatter is delighted to see Alice and is also there to protect her when the Knave of Hearts tries to find her again. He is captured and taken to the Red Queen’s castle. Now, Alice has to find a way to break her friends free and defeat the Jabberwocky.

I don’t know what is up with Tim Burton remaking, re-imagining, reinterpreting classic children’s books or movies, but he needs to stop it. Just because you put your own Tim Burtonesque spin on it doesn’t make it good. It was boring. I didn’t care for Alice who was stoic the whole movie. The Red Queen screaming “Off with his/her/their head(s)!” every five minutes. The White Queen acted like she was high off ecstasy. The Mad Hatter was supposed to be a mood ring, but he was blue in my eyes. Neutral. Nothing. The Tweedles were just there. The only characters I liked where the Cheshire Cat and the Blue Caterpillar. What the fuck is with that ending?

Judgment: I didn’t care for this movie at all. Watch the animated classic film instead.

Rating: **

The Damned United (2009)


Things are going to be a little different around here… without Don.

— Brian Clough

The Damned United was not on my radar whatsoever. I never heard of the film until Mike from Big Mike’s Movie Blog reviewed it. I heard that people were digging this movie. Typically, I don’t like sports films, especially soccer. This movie tries to delve into the genius of England’s greatest soccer coach, Brian Clough, but it barely scratches the surface.

In July 1974, Leeds United fail to make the World Cup that year. The most successful manager of the club’s history, Don Revie (Colm Meaney) leaves his post to manage English National Football Team. His successor is the opinionated Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), who has some choice words about Leeds in the past. His new team does not like the new guy.

The action flashes back six years earlier, the days that he was with a fledging team of Derby County with his assistant manager Pete Taylor (Timothy Spall). During random drawing of which teams would square off, second division Derby is selected to play first division Leeds. The Derby team is humiliated by a loss when Leeds team implements dirty tactics to win their games.

This begins a rivalry between the two clubs. If Derby wants to be the best, they have to beat the best by any means necessary. Brian wants to have a player that could help them reach the top of the second division. The management goes with the over the hill, Dave Mackay (Brian McCardie). This swift action causes strife with chairman of the team, Sam Longson (Jim Broadbent).

His new strategy works as the club move up the second division to capture the cup. The nation takes notice about his accomplishment. Revie wants to humiliate Clough as much as he can.

Michael Sheen gave a very good performance in this movie. Some parts of the movie were very good with the self-realization that we good. I wish that the movie focused more on that. It mainly focused on Clough’s obsession with getting back at Revie. When the movie was over, I thought, “That’s it.” It felt like a hanging chad.

Judgment: There is a good movie here. You have to fish for it.

Rating: ***1/2

The Queen (2006)

After my tepid response to Peter Morgan penned, “Frost/Nixon”, I wanted to see the film that brought his name to the national stage, The Queen.

I did not want to see this movie when it came out in 2006, because I thought that it would be stuffy and overwrought with sentimental dialogue. I knew where I was when I heard of Princess Diana’s death. I was ironically watching the Spice Girls on Mtv when a ticker said that she was dead. I was shocked.

The movie takes place during the summer of 1997 when Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) was sworn in as Britain’s youngest Prime Minister ever. This dramatic turn of events dismayed Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and her husband, Prince Philip (James Cromwell).

In their first meeting together, Tony and his wife, Cherie (Helen McCrory) try to dignified towards the Queen, but she is disappointed with their lack of grace.

Most of the movie takes place when Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, who are shown in archival footage are killed in France after a high speed chase with the paparazzi and the subsequents days afterward.

It is mostly a power struggle between the progressive Tony Blair, along with the ever-changing British society and the very traditional ways of the monarchy.

The Queen does not want a big spectacle for the burial of Princess Diana of Wales. She wanted to have a private ceremony the way that the Spencer family wanted.

In the days that followed, the British people grew angry at the royal family for not making any comment about the death of Diana, no remorse, no showing of grief or respect for her life. They wanted to have the monarchy abolished. The Queen wanted to do the right thing in her mind is to not make it a spectacle.

Sensing the growing frustration, Tony Blair and Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) wanted to give the people what they want and have a public memorial service for the “People’s Princess” that Blair passively called her.

The press made Blair look like the hero and the Queen the heartless villain. Blair did not want that to happen. He tries to calm anger of the public and the venom of press, but to no avail. Eventually, Blair had to issue and ultimatum that she will give into the demands of the public. She reluctantly agrees. Her popularity comes back into fluctuation.

I loved the way that Stephen Frears interweaving the archival footage of Diana and the funeral into the film. Wonderful. The sweeping shots of the English countryside by Affonso Beato were phenomenal. Alexandre Desplat’s score sucked me right into the action. I knew what happened for the most part, but I felt the tension in the air. It was palpable.

It was a good movie that I’m glad to have to chance to see.

My rating: ***1/2 stars.

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