Monday, April 16, 2018

Million Dollar Baby: 2004

Million Dollar Baby is one of the films where I remember watching the Oscars in 2005 and seeing Hilary Swank win for her portrayal of Maggie Fitzgerald, a female boxer, and having no interest in watching the film. Picking up the film at my local library to watch for this blog I had only slightly more interest because I know I'm approaching the end point of watching best picture winners and I'm excited to finally meet my goal. That and Rocky was better than I expected, so I figured another boxing film might be good.

I wouldn't say that Million Dollar Baby is good, but I wouldn't say that it's bad. The film has some interesting moments, and it's not your typical boxing film (spoiler: she doesn't win the title). The story tackles the difficult subject of euthanasia and handled it with grace. The acting is good. Did Swank earn her Oscar? Sure, I think so. It's hard to know for this year as I haven't seen the other nominees (check out the list for Best Actress for the 2005 Oscars), but there were scenes where Swank convincingly showed joy, pain, fear, and more.

For me, there are a few issues with Million Dollar Baby. One is the frame story. Morgan Freeman, who plays Eddie, narrates the film, and until the end you don't know why. When you find out why, it doesn't make much sense. Apparently he's writing a letter to Frankie's daughter to explain why her father was a good man. You know that Frankie has a bad relationship with his daughter, but it's never clear why, so then the letter doesn't have much meaning. I just wasn't invested in Frankie's character because I didn't know enough about him. The other issue I had was length. Some parts of the film just seemed to drag on. As Maggie begins fighting, the montages are quick, but then after her injury, so much of the film drags. Maybe it felt that way because I wanted to know how things would turn out, but that part dragging along with the somewhat unnecessary character Danger (I'm not sure what the point was to having his character in the story) made the second half of the movie go on and on. That slowing down of the story made the ending have less of an impact on me.

I'll leave off with this thought. If you told me that you're going to watch Million Dollar Baby, I wouldn't say you should or shouldn't. But I wouldn't be that interested in knowing your thoughts about it.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: 2003

Honestly, the first time I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring I hated it. I was in the theater with my mom and brother. They had both read the books and I hadn't. When the film ended with Frodo and Sam heading downriver, I thought I had just wasted three and a half hours to see an incomplete story. And of course it was incomplete! What did I expect? It was only a third of the story. But I was so irritated I swore I wouldn't see the rest of the films.

Then I took a class in college on Tolkien while studying abroad in Oxford, England, which is where Tolkien lived when he wrote the series and most of his other work. And I fell in the love with the Ents. Yes, those giant treeherders were what I needed to realize the beauty of Tolkien's work.

Today we own all three films, the extended versions obviously, and my husband and I have watched them repeatedly. It had been awhile since we'd done a rewatch, so in preparation for this blog, my husband watched the first two films. I sat in on the second one, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, because of the three that's my favorite. (Yeah, those Ents still get to me!) Just watching the second one, I was pulled in completely and so excited to rewatch The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

On this viewing (which I should say was, for the original purpose of this blog, unnecessary because I've seen the film so many times), I was reminded of how hope is possible even in the darkest of times. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954, following World War II, and I wonder how much living in England during the war influenced his writing. I wouldn't say that the book is an allegory or in some way represents the different sides, but I think the concept of forces coming together to unite against a common enemy is certainly relevant to what Tolkien witnessed during World War II. But that concept isn't unique to this time period, either; it's a common human experience. One that I think we need to be reminded of from time to time so as to not lose hope in our world. Maybe on this viewing, I needed that reminder, so that's what I saw.

What also struck me this time was how, despite only having three, the women in this film series and story are strong. From Galadriel, one of the fairy leaders, to Arwen, the fairy daughter who believes in man, to my favorite Eowyn, the Rohan woman who fights alongside the men in the battle for Gondor, the women in this story stand up for what they believe in. Eowyn is the strongest of the three as she defies what the men in her society believe by fighting with them. While she disguises herself to do so, her courage inspires me. She also helps Merry join the fight as well. The king tells Merry he is too small to fight, but Eowyn pulls him up on her horse and takes Merry along. She knows what it means to him to fight for their friends. Seeing those who are marginalized stand up and fight for what they believe is one of the key messages in this film. Of course, there's Frodo and Sam, two small hobbits fighting the greatest evil of their time. But that's the obvious example. Eowyn and Merry are the more meaningful example because they are less obvious.

If you have a film you've been thinking about watching, you should rewatch it. I'm glad I did for this one.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Beautiful Mind: 2001

A Beautiful Mind was a rewatch for me and definitely a necessary one because I didn't remember much from the film at all except the shed full of magazine and newspaper clippings. I didn't even remember that the film was based on a true story. All I could remember was that I liked the movie. And that turned out to be true on the second watching.

What struck me on this viewing was how talented Russell Crowe is. Sure, Gladiator is a terrible film, but it's not Crowe's fault. His ability to portray a character suffering from schizophrenia is astounding. Crowe is intense in this film; you believe his hallucinations as real. When the truth is uncovered, I had trouble believing it, and I think that was due to Crowe's performance. The reason was because I didn't want to think that John Nash was without friends. When the truth comes out that his best friend Charles isn't real, I was crushed. Here's a social awkward man who struggled with human interactions and had found someone who seemed to really understand, but this man wasn't even real. It was all in his head.

My friend Ryan said to me before I watched the film that he thinks A Beautiful Mind is one of those movies that people would forget how much they enjoyed (I'm summing up his words here). I have to agree. If you're at all considering watching it, you should. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Departed: 2006

I skipped ahead a few years to The Departed because Nate and Ryan asked me to be on their podcast (to be recorded this weekend) Can We Still Be Friends? When the episode is ready, I'll be sure to post it. In the meantime, here are my initial thoughts on the film.

As a mob story set in Boston and involving crooked cops, The Departed is not a film I would normally pick up. Again, watching the Best Picture winners expands my experiences. I have to say that it seems like the Academy of the 1970s enjoyed a good mob story. The 1980s and 1990s didn't have any, so it wasn't until this 2006 film that the members deemed another mob story worthy of the big award. It's not that there weren't options. I checked, and Martin Scorcese's Goodfellas came out in 1990. That film was nominated for Best Picture and five other awards but only won Best Supporting Actor for Joe Pesci. The Departed delivers on the mob story: lots of drugs, violence, and cops that can't quite seem to catch the bad guy.

While the film is over two hours, it didn't feel long. Scorcese's cutting of scenes, switching because the undercover cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the detective who's also a rat (Matt Damon) speeds up the film while also drawing parallels. Both men are nervous multiple times. DiCaprio's acting was impressive. In some scenes, I was nervous that he was going to blow his cover because of all the nonverbal cues he was showing. Besides DiCaprio and Damon, the cast is loaded with strong actors, including Jack Nicholson as the mob boss Frank Costello. Nicholson was the perfect mob boss: the right amount of evilness mixed with arrogance.

I have to say, I'm looking forward to discussing this film with Nate and Ryan. I'm really interested in hearing what they have to say about how this film explores the ideas of heroes and loneliness.