Movie Valley

We Are Marshall
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, Kate Mara
Directed By: McG
Run Time: 2 hrs 07 minutes

First of all, let me just say that I know I listed The Good German as my next movie but I did place that disclaimer there for a reason - possibly. I might possibly see that as my next movie. Well, since it's only playing at one theater in the whole entire Twin Cities, I opted to go to something closer to home (particularly since it was supposed to be a yucky, stormy day out today). And Night at the Museum will most likely be my next movie. Jeff wanted to see that on New Year's Day.

We Are Marshall is the true story about the plane crash that took the lives of almost the entire Marshall University football team, coaches, some staff, and some fans and the effects it had on the small college town.

This is a very emotional movie. Prior to hearing about this movie, I had no idea that this had happened. I knew nothing about the people involved in the story and yet I had tears in my eyes and a big ol' lump in my throat as I watched the people who were left behind deal with their grief. The plane crash scene is quite intense, although incredibly brief. Several people screamed because it was so shocking. True, you knew the plane was going to crash but the director did a good job of giving us a glimpse into the final moments of these players' lives without showing too much or going into too much exposition.

Aside from watching the Super Bowl every year (and that's more about the food and commercials than football), I'm not much of a football fan. If real life football were like this movie, I would enjoy the sport immensely. Even when the team lost (there are several games in the movie so I'm not really giving anything away to say there was "a" loss), it was fun to watch. The director did an excellent job pulling the audience into the game. Speaking of the director, I must comment on his name - "McG." That's seriously his name. I looked him up on IMDB and found he really hasn't done much of anything so it strikes me as peculiar that this man has quite an ego already. This movie certainly didn't make him worthy of an ego, to say the least.

The football scenes were well shot, slick and fast editing. They did a good job of pulling the viewer into the game so that you were more of a sports spectator. The struggle to overcome the grief of friends and family was well captured. Like I said, I had a lump in my throat for almost half the movie. The rest of the movie - when it wasn't tugging at the heart strings or throwing you into the thrill of the game - was so-so. Overall, it was a good movie. The cast had great chemistry (although I wondered why Kimberly Williams was cast to play McConaughey's wife. She had very little screen time and even fewer lines). David Strathairn was wonderful as the Dean struggling to respect the memory of the dead as well as move on with life.

The audience was a mix of older people (people older than I) and teenage girls. I suspect they came to see Matthew McConaughey. I must warn you: don't go for that reason alone. First, he's trapped in hideous 70s attire complete with scraggily hair and polyester. Don't try to wax nostalgia and say it was a wonderful time - it weren't wonderful for duds. There's one scene just before the final game (the first home game) where all of the football players are standing around in a circle wearing their game day attire - coat, tie, and dress slacks. I seriously counted 6 different guys wearing plaid. And not good plaid, either. But back to McConaughey. Second, he had an incredibly annoying habit of talking out of the side of his mouth. His left side of his lips never moved! It was distracting and irritating. And his character was a little too upbeat to walk into a town filled with mourners. Finally, I'm having a hard time deciding if it was his character that was supposed to be quirky or if he was simply over-acting. If his character truly was this flighty, rah-rah, over-the-top, goofball of a guy with weird anecdotes, then he did a fabulous job portraying him. Other than that, he was fine (although I couldn't really look at him when he was wearing his tight little shorts and white knee socks).

All in all, a decent movie. It teaches us to remember that when tragedy strikes, we must go on with our lives. It doesn't mean we've forgotten the past. It just helps make us stronger.

The Good Shepherd
Starring: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, John Turturro
Directed By: Robert de Niro
Run Time: 2 hrs 48 minutes

The Good Shepherd is about the early beginnings of the CIA. It follows the life of one man, Edward Wilson (played by Damon) as he works his way through the ranks of the CIA. He starts fresh out of college into the bowels of WWII all the way to the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs. The movie follows Wilson's personal relationships (or lack thereof) and his professional triumphs.

The glue to this picture is one word: trust. Wilson's character is told early on by several people that no one can be trusted, something he pays for time and time again. Although he's able to overcome his setbacks for trusting people in his professional life, he pays the price in his personal life for not trusting his family.

Matt Damon does a decent job of playing an unlikable, cold and calculating, always thinking CIA agent. His job was to be void of emotions, robotic but I had a hard time fully accepting that he was as humorless as his character was supposed to be. Even when frowning, I think I still saw a jovial Damon-esque smirk to his lips. He just wasn't as big of a hard-ass as I think he was supposed to be. Angelina Jolie is mis-cast as his wife. Don't get me wrong - I like Angelina. She did a fine job with her performance, however, I think a lesser known actress would have been better suited for this role. Jolie's a strong actress but her talents go to waste in this movie. Her character has very little screen time. Each time she was in a scene, I expected more to happen and was disappointed when nothing did. She definitely did a fine job conveying a wounded, neglected wife in love with a stranger (her husband) but for an actress of her caliber, there should have been more.

Although the movie didn't feel almost three hours long, I think the duration did have a an impact on the tone of the movie. There were many cruel twists that weren't as heavy as they should have been, partly because the counter to the cruelty happened several hours prior. In one particular case (without giving too much away), it was revealed in the end that one of Wilson's associates screwed over another, but that was but a distant memory as it happened over two hours earlier.

The movie is interesting. All actors did a decent job in their respective roles. There are many twists, turns, and surprises as well as a lot of heartache. It's a good movie. You don't notice that it's three hours long... but it definitely could have been shorter!!

Blood Diamond
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Arnold Vosloo
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Run Time: 2 hrs 18 minutes

Blood Diamond is about, well, blood diamonds. It exposes the death and violence in Africa that comes with diamond mining. The story itself follows an enslaved diamond miner, a smuggler, and a journalist as they work together - and at odds - to recover a priceless enormous pink diamond.

This movie is absolutely wonderful. The characters were incredibly compelling. Djimon plays an enslaved miner who, upon gaining his freedom (purchased by DiCaprio's character), fights desperately to find his family that were ripped from him when rebels attacked their peaceful farming village. His family fled; he was captured by the rebels and forced to mine for diamonds (it was either that or have a hand hacked off). His conviction to find his family was heart-wrenching, particularly because finding his family would have come easier if he had that pink diamond. He cared nothing for finding the diamond; only to save his family. DiCaprio had an absolutely fabulous accent. He did a great job portraying a slimy, selfish smuggler (and also did a good job hinting at a broken past). Although I thought Connelly did a fine job, I'm a bit torn in my overall assessment. I'm not sure if the script didn't give her enough to work with or if she simply didn't fully portray someone capable of swaying DiCaprio's character to do the right thing.

Jeffrey thought this would be a good movie for me to see, given my penchant for shiny baubles. He thought it might dull my desire for them. In the early parts of the movie, it most certainly did make the sparkle of a diamond seem less enticing, particularly over one scene involving goats. I wasn't happy that poor animals were being used - and physically harmed - to smuggle diamonds across the border into Libya. By the end of the movie, I was okay with my love of the bling. This movie takes place in the early 90s. By 2003, Congress passed a law banning blood diamonds in the US. While that doesn't guarantee that every diamond sold in the US is cruelty free, it does help. Technically, recent purchases should be okay. Technically.

I really liked this movie. It had great actions scenes, compelling characters, gut-wrenching back-story, and superb acting. I particularly liked two points in the movie - just because there was a male and female lead, didn't mean they had to fall in love; and the endings for all of the characters. It wasn't Disney. I did want the Disney ending but I felt how each character's story ended was poignant and touching. Leo did an absolutely fabulous job and definitely deserves his Golden Globe nomination. I just wish I had seen more of the other movies on the list to fully make an assessment.

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Rinko Kikuchi
Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Run Time: 2 hrs 22 minutes

Babel depicts the lives of several different families, all interlocking by one event - a tourist being wounded while on vacation. This tale is told through four vignettes - a couple on vacation in Morocco; a Mexican nanny caring for two white, American children; a Moroccan family with their daily activities; and a Japanese teenager struggling to find herself.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play the couple on vacation in Morocco. When Susan (Blanchett's character) is shot through the window of a tourist bus, the other three plots also unfold. Richard (played by Pitt) fights desperately to get medical attention for his wife. He battles location, language and cultural barriers, as well as compassion. The bus is in the middle of nowhere when Susan is shot. The nearest hospital is four hours away. The tour guide takes them to his village, where he is the only one who speaks English. While the other tourists on the bus do speak English, they lack compassion for the injured woman. They simply find her life-threatening wounds an inconvenience to them and their safety (save little for Susan's safety as she bleeds to death on the floor of the tourist's humble home).

Back at home, their nanny dutifully takes care of the couple's children but Susan's injuries are inconvenient for her, too (although her character and her plight are much more sympathetic than the tourists'). Her son is getting married in Mexico; the couple were supposed to be home in plenty of time so that she could go but Susan's blood loss put a damper on her plans to fly home on time. With no other way around it, the nanny packs up the children and takes off to Mexico. The children are exposed to a lot of new culture, some good, some frightening, but the nanny's intentions were honorable. The trip back across the border did not go as planned and the nanny and children are detained...

The Moroccan family's adventure depicts how a little boredom and too much responsibility at such a young age can lead to tragedy. The boys of the family, ages probably 7 and 11, are in charge of moving their herd of goats across the mountain each day for feeding. In order to keep the jackals (real ones, not mean people) at bay, the father purchases an illegal gun and instructs the two young boys to shoot anything that moves. Boredom and immaturity fuel the fire for this movie. I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that these boys are responsible for the tourist's injuries.

The final subplot of the movie involves a deaf Japanese teenager struggling to find herself, which is complicated by the loss of her mother. This was the least interesting subplots of the whole movie (or so I thought). It was slow to reveal how it fit in with the other subplots and that made it difficult to enjoy. I kept thinking in frustration, "What's the point?" I think the director also found this section boring, too, as he put in a lot of gratuitous shots. The first shot was fine but the second and third shots were, well, gratuitous... I did find the end scene of this vignette creepy but upon reflection (you really have to think about the events that led up to this moment), it seemed sweet and reassuring.

Each vignette had a bit of mystery to it, some sort of back-story that needed to be revealed, which I liked. Each had compelling characters. So many tragic events to deal with in one movie! The pace was a bit slow. The stories were frustrating, but that was more about human nature (why on earth do people do the things they do???) and probably the whole point of the movie. Closer to home, with all our travels, I could see something like this happening to us on one of our trips. I'm not sending out an invitation for disaster, I'm just saying the movie played on a world traveler's fears well - the realism of third world tragedy.

I liked this movie... and yet I didn't. I wanted to like it more than I did. I found three out of the four vignettes incredibly compelling but the fourth really stilted my fondness for this movie. I know Brad Pitt is up for Best Actor for the Golden Globes but I have to say, Leonardo DiCaprio was much better in Blood Diamond.

Pursuit of Happyness
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Thandie Newton
Directed By: Gabriele Muccino
Run Time: 1 hr 56 minutes

This movie is about one man's desires to give his family a better life and all the things that happen to prevent that wish from becoming a reality.

I mentioned to my friend Dub that I was going to see this movie. She replied that even the previews "tugged at the heart strings" and she predicted that this movie was going to be non-stop heartache. She was exactly right.

Will Smith did an excellent job playing a happy go lucky (although down on his lucky) father. I definitely rooted for him to succeed. His real life son Jaden played his movie son. He is a cutie that did a good job of playing a realistic kid. He was so real, it didn't seem like he was acting, although it must take a lot of acting skills to pull that off. He wasn't clunky. He was realistic.

Although it may not seem like it, this movie is a thriller. I was exhausted watching it. I clutched my armrests 'til my knuckles turned white; I held my breath until I almost passed out. So many terrible things happened to this poor man and his son that even when something bad wasn't happening, I kept worrying that something would happen. For example, one scene took place at a neighborhood park. Christopher (little Jaden) played on the slide while his father watched. The little guy kept insisting over and over again, like a child does, "Watch me, watch me, watch me, Dad!" Chris (his father played by Will Smith) was distracted. I sucked in my breath, wondering when the child would fall off the top of the slide and break his arm, thus causing another worry (and financial burden - I could see them without health insurance) for his father. From across the park, his father spotted someone who had some stolen property of his. He ordered his son to stay put, but again, being a child, he followed when his father wasn't watching. I clutched the armrests. Was the child going to be kidnapped? Hit by a car? What? What? Not to spoil the movie, but nothing happened. Of course, I worried that something would.

Great movie. Excellent movie. Suspenseful movie. Heart-wrenching movie. The actors were fabulous. The story was wonderful. And it's based on a true story. A very powerful story.