March 27, 2007

Blood Diamond - $8

Rarely is a movie anything more than mindless entertainment, even when a movie does offer something extra it is often nothing more than a simple life lesson or profound statement which elevates a movie to more than just mere fun. Blood Diamond is the rarest of all, a movie which inspires its viewer to look at something in their world in a new way.

Blood Diamond is a story set in 1999 in civil war ravaged Sierra Leone. The economy of Sierra Leone, then and now, revolves around diamond mining and in 1999 the country was in chaos as rebels and the military fought over control of these diamond mines.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a diamond smuggler for a major international diamond company. Archer shows no regard for where he gets the diamonds from, only that he acquires them. Djimon Hounsou plays Solomon Bo, a fisherman whose village is destroyed by the rebels who force Bo into slavery in one of their diamond mines. Bo`s wife and children escape the rebels but are impossible for him to locate on his own. While working in the mines Bo finds a priceless diamond and realizing its significance, he hides it. Archer and Bo cross paths as Archer hears about this diamond and knows that Bo he can lead him to it. A deal is struck between the two wherein Archer agrees to help Bo find his family in exchange for help in finding this diamond.

Throughout this movie Danny Archer`s disregard for the origin of the diamonds he trades causes the trading of many diamonds that come from rebel controlled and slave labour driven diamond mines. These are blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, and they end up mixed with legitimate diamonds and sold to Jewellers all over the world. This is where this movie is controversial, it is unclear how many of the worlds diamonds are conflict diamonds and critics say this movie exaggerates the problem. Sierra Leone is now peaceful and it is said that legitimate diamond mining is the backbone of their economy, critics have said that because of these facts Blood Diamond undeservedly casts a shadow over Sierra Leone`s current mining industry.

Whether conflict diamonds are as big a problem as this movie implies is not clear but nobody disputes that they have been a problem and still exist today. The makers of Blood Diamond should be applauded, in my opinion, for bringing attention to our need in the wealthy west to consider a diamond`s origin before buying it.

Blood Diamond is a well made movie with outstanding acting performances by DiCaprio and Hounsou. An intense movie with images that at times haunt the viewer and at other times inspire. This movie was not without its faults, the pacing dragged at times for one thing, but this can be overlooked in the bigger picture of the powerful story being told.

I put Blood Diamond on my `Watch It` list and give it a value of $8.

March 24, 2007

300 - $8

300 is the cinematic version of Frank Miller's graphic novel by the same name. It is the retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C where 300 Spartans held the Persian Army of thousands for three days which, it is said, gave Greece enough time to raise their own army, inspired an eventual victory over the Persians and the founding of the world's first democracy. This is the epic battle of all epic battles.

300 is a legendary tale told in the exaggerated way only a graphic novelist could get away with. The Spartans are depicted as nearly flawless warriors and the Persians as inhuman abominations. Battle scenes dominate the story line with severed limbs aplenty, yet somehow the exaggerated comic-book-style depiction of these battles made it easier to watch for me than the realistically graphic battles I've seen in other epic war movies.

The dialogue of 300 even feels like a comic book and was part of the entertainment value for me. King Leonidas is regularly inspiring his soldiers with such wisdom as; "Give them nothing! But take from them everything!" and "Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell!" In any other movie I would attributed this kind of dialogue to poor writing but in 300 it worked with the rest of the over the top and unreal aspects of the movie.

This movie does not overwhelm you with historical facts or deep life lessons. What 300 does is entertain its audience from start to finish. If you go to see 300 and expect anything more than this you will be disappointed. This is a movie of excess and simplicity but it is certainly not boring.

300 is full of impressive computer generated scenery and slow motion action sequences and if battle scenes and graphic novel story telling are up your alley then it is not to be missed.

This movie is worth seeing despite its faults. I put 300 on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.

March 20, 2007

Borat - $2

Borat was hard to watch. I understand that Sacha Baron Cohen isn't actually a racist, I assume that because he is Jewish himself he is able to get away with the anti-semitism of his character Borat who has to be considered the most racist fictional character in history. I also get that this is a satirical movie which paints racism and sexism as the refuge of idiots.

The problem is I still didn't enjoy watching a movie full of blatant and inappropriate prejudices. The other problem is that Borat's target audience doesn't seem to understand the nuance that this movie is belittling Borat and anyone like him, from what I overhear from this movie's fans they instead imitate and admire Borat. I can't imagine that this was the intent of the movie.

The full title of this movie is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and the premise is that Borat is a Kazakh who is being sent by his government to film a documentary about America to help Kazakhstan improve itself. Borat travels around the US interacting with people who really believe they are being filmed for a Kazakh documentary and proceed to do and say things that I hope they wouldn't admit to anyone else.

This premise makes for a shocking movie full of uncomfortable moments. If you watched Borat and didn't cringe there is likely something wrong with you. For my part I cringed in almost every scene and didn't really laugh that often. I did laugh at times and to be honest not every person on the movie treated Borat poorly, in fact some people were downright nice to him.

In the end, after the movie stopped and I breathed a sigh of relief that it was finally over, I immediately wondered why so many people have given this movie such high praise. Cohen is not doing anything new here, admittedly he is one of the people who perfected this type of comedy years ago and this movie takes it to a new level; but the fact remains that Borat is not a new idea and mostly the movie is just full of horrible racism and sexism which now get repeated every day by people who've seen this movie and think it's hilarious.

There were some funny moments amidst the cringing and Cohen would have literally risked his life a few times to do the things he did so I hesitate to give this movie the lowest rating I've ever given.

I certainly put Borat on my 'Don't Watch It' list though and give it a value of $2.

March 11, 2007

The Departed - $8

I've been asked what I think of The Departed for months now but I didn't actually watch it until recently. I've eagerly anticipated this movie for some time and when the Academy chose it as the best movie of 2006 and gave Scorsese his long overdue best director award, I finally got around to seeing it.

The Departed is a treat to watch if you enjoy intense acting, quick dialogue and a well paced movie. I even found it quite funny at times.

There are those out there who believe Scorsese is overrated, I am not one of those people and while I don't love violence in movies I can handle it from Scorsese more than most directors. The Departed is not the most violent movie I've ever seen in the "gangster" genre, but it is prevalent. In typical Scorsese fashion the violence is quick, shocking and realistically graphic, there are no slow motion replays or gimmicks which somehow makes it easier to handle for me.

It's hard to pick out one, or even just a few great acting performances in The Departed. In the era of ensemble casts this is one for the ages. DiCaprio, Wahlberg, Baldwin, Damon, Sheen, and of course Nicholoson are all brilliant. My only complaint is the lack of female characters, save one played well by Vera Farmiga.

So did it deserve best picture? I'm not so sure. I was pulling for Little Miss Sunshine but assumed it would not win. I've heard others say Babel was more deserving of the Oscar. I certainly think highly of The Departed and will watch it again, but it wasn't the best of what 2006 had to offer in my opinion. Still this was a great movie; in the gangster genre which nobody does better than Scorsese, this is one of the best I've seen.

The Departed is on my 'Watch It' list and I give a value of $8.