Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2004: Million Dollar Baby

Maggie Fitzgerald is a nobody from nowhere who wants to be a boxer.  Frankie Dunn is an old boxing trainer who insists that he doesn't train girls.  But Maggie's persistance wins him over, and, with the help of a former-boxer-turned-gym-caretaker named Scrap, Frankie turns Maggie into a world-renowned boxer.

This movie is extremely well-made.  The casting is brilliant; Hilary Swank is a perfectly relatable Maggie, and Morgan Freeman is simply amazing, as always.  But this is pretty much Clint Eastwood's project - he stars in, directs, produces, and even composes music for this film.  And it comes together beautifully.  It's kind of a dark story, so many scenes take place at night, when there's only a single shaft of light.  The mood created by the cinematography is somber yet hopeful, which perfectly complements the story.  From the lighting to the soundtrack to the character development, and everything in between, one couldn't ask for a better-crafted film.

While this movie is incredible, it's also excruciatingly painful to watch.  I will never understand why people consider boxing matches entertaining.  I wince at every punch, even though I know it's not even real.  And then the climax is heart-stopping.  This is the second time I've seen this film, and it was much more painful than the first time, since I spent most of it anticipating the horrible things that I knew were going to happen later.  This is a fabulous film, but it's definitely not one that can be watched over and over again.

Stay tuned for: Crash

Saturday, May 28, 2011

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

Frodo, Sam, and Gollum continue into Mordor with the One Ring of Power, while everyone else prepares for an epic battle of good versus evil in Gondor.

As I mentioned in my last post - a month ago - I read the books and watched the first two movies before watching this one.  Mostly, I'm really glad I did, because if I had just tried to watch this knowing what I knew about The Lord of the Rings a couple of months ago (basically nothing), I would have been completely lost.  But part of me is kind of sad that I read the books first because I ended up spending most of the movies arguing with the screen, shouting things like, "What?!  It's not supposed to happen like that!"  Which is almost exactly how I watch the Harry Potter movies, so I should have known better.  Why is it that modern Hollywood takes good, epic adventure stories with strong characters and turns them into big fight scenes with intense visual effects?  They take some scenes that are briefly important to the story and draw them out and dramatize them, while other equally important scenes with less melodramatic potential are shortened or eliminated entirely.  I'm going to try to talk about this movie without comparing it to the book the whole time, but I just had to get this out.  The books are infinitely better than the movies.

Looking at this movie alone is difficult to do.  It's not just the third installment of a trilogy; it's more like the third part of one long story.  So just watching it on its own would make absolutely no sense.  I think it's probably the best of the three, but I honestly believe the main reason it won Best Picture is because all three were nominated and this was the last chance for one to win.  It tells a good story about overcoming evil, but it's extremely hard to follow that story.  All of the quick switches between subplots are dizzying, and none of the characters are developed enough for the audience to really care about them, with the possible exceptions of Frodo, Sam and Gollum.  Their scenes are the most interesting part of the movie; everything else just gets really old really fast.  Many of the fight scenes drag on and on until I lose interest, and then suddenly something completely unrelated is happening and I feel like I've missed something.  The dialogue is really difficult to understand, particularly when Gandalf speaks in his soft, fading old man voice, which further contributes to the confusion.  The main reason I think people like this movie is the visual effects, which are admittedly pretty awesome.  Still, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, I don't watch movies for the special effects; I watch them for the characters and the story, which are both somewhat lacking in this movie.  It's mostly just a big battle, with a few interesting scenes stuck in.

So all in all, I didn't think this movie was much to write home about.  Lord of the Rings fans the world over will hate me for saying that, but I think it's a shame that Tolkien's masterpiece was reduced to a bunch of visual effects.  That's one blogger's opinion at least.

Next: Million Dollar Baby