Posts Tagged ‘forrest whitaker’

arrival

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is living a life of quiet anonymity as a linguistics professor in a small college.  She is also mourning the loss of her daughter Hannah (Abigail Pniowsky, Jadyn Malone, Julia Scarlet Dan) who died of cancer.  The silence of her quiet life is shattered by the arrival of the Heptopods, aliens from far beyond our own galaxy.  After listening to a snippet of the aliens’ language on a tape, Louise  is tasked by the American military, specifically Colonel Weber (Forrest Whittaker) to translate the Heptopods language, find out why they came to earth and what they want with us.  Louise works diligently with Theoretical Physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to translate the Heptopds language, he tries to decode it mathematically, she with words. She suggests it’s easier to communicate with the aliens using words and not sounds, she writes human on a whiteboard, the Heptopods, separated from the humans by a glass wall, respond with a splash of ink, like an octopus, the ink turns into a symbol and, Louise starts to study the symbol and translate it into English.  Louise and Ian’s mission becomes more urgent, because the arrival of the Heptopods is a worldwide phenomenon, and the Chinese are starting to act more bellicose towards the Heptopods on their territory, and other nations are starting to act on their own as well.  What began as a cooperative effort is rapidly falling apart.  Can Louise and Ian translate this language before another nation acts rashly?

At first glance, Arrival seems like a mash-up of two older stories of alien invasion , Independence Day, with Will Smith  for its non-humanoid aliens, and worldwide presence of the alien landing and an episode of the classic show Twilight Zone “To Serve Man” in which aliens present humans with a book which the humans try to translate.  But Arrival is a much quieter, more contemplative story than these.  There are lots of scenes where Louise is thinking, or reflecting on her daughter’s life and death.  All of the elements of Louise’s life and her daughter’s life are important, and play a role in the final outcome.  The story even manages to ask a big philosophical question, which adds to the intellectual nature of the film.  The use of flashbacks is very effective in this film, the flashbacks tell a story in themselves and pack an emotional wallop.  But then the film tries too hard to wrap everything neatly in a bow and the ending went too far in that regard. There were some elements that weren’t very logical, like how giant 7 legged aliens could navigate a spaceship, but Arrival was a pretty ambitious film, and it hit the mark on almost all its lofty goals.

The acting is good, but Amy Adams is great.  She should have been nominated for an Oscar for sure.  She had a complex role, where she was emotionally torn by her daughter’s death, yet intellectually sharp in her professional capacity.  She carried this movie and was always believable as both mother and linguist.  Jeremy Renner, on the other hand, has all the personality of a wet dishrag, he and Adams should have had great chemistry, but had none.  Forrest Whittaker has an ersatz authority figure look, the casting director could have gotten someone like JK Simmons, and he would have been much better.

The direction is no great visual extravaganza, there are some decent exterior shots of what is supposed to be Montana, but this is not a special effects movie, and that works to its advantage.  It’s a contemplative movie, not one filled with explosions or photon torpedoes.  The pacing is good, and he gets at least one good performance.  Not a big fan of Denis Villeneuve’s earlier work.  Prisoners and Sicario are among his work, but I like the work he does here.

Arrival:  Take me to your linguist?

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rogue-one

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, Beau Gladson, Dolly Gladson) is hiding on the planet Lah’mu with her father Galen (Mads Mikkelson) and mother Lyra. (Valene Kane) The weapons developer for the Empire, Orson Kennick  (Ben Mendelson) arrives on Lah’mu and orders Galen to come with him to build a new weapon called The Death Star.  Galen refuses initially, but agrees to go with Kennick when he threatens to kill Lyra.  Jyn escapes with the help of Saw Gererra  (Forrest Whittaker)

Jyn is eventually captured and held captive on the Ring of Kafrene, from there she is transferred to the planet Wobani, where she is freed by rebel pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid K250. (Alan Tudyk) The rebels ask Jyn to find Saw Garerra and extract Galen. Their ultimate goal is to find the plans to the Death Star, and pass them on to other rebels to continue the fight.  Cassian, Jyn and K250 travel to the planet Jedha, where the meet Empire defector and pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and blind rebel Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and his bodyguard, Baze Malbus (Wen Jian) Chirrut and Baze help Cassian and Jyn fend off an attack by storm troopers, but while they are fighting, Kennick and Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry) are on the Death Star planning an attack on Jedha City to crush that part of the rebellion.  Do Cassian, Jyn, Chirrett, Bodhi and Baze escape the bombing of Jedha City, do they find the plans to the Death Star and transport them to the other rebels?

Rogue One gets off to a slow start, in its defense, there are a lot of characters, locations, plot and backstory to unfurl in this movie, if some of that was trimmed maybe the pacing would have been faster, but once all the characters come together, and project a united front, the movie takes off. There’s lots to like in this movie, the main characters don’t necessarily like each other or trust each other at first, I thought that was the right tone to set.  Jyn continues the Star Wars tradition of having strong, assertive women in positions of leadership.   Cassian has doubts about Jyn’s commitment to the struggle, and doesn’t mind telling her, is Bodhi a defector or a spy?  The Chinese characters, which first appeared to be a marketing gimmick, were actually well-written and well-developed. There is just enough use of characters from A New Hope to make it an effective plot device.  The only characters that I thought were underwritten were Saw Garrera and Bodhi Rook, the writers could have done much more with them.  But the ending is emotionally satisfying and ties the story together well.  Rogue One is just a few notches below The Force Awakens, and a good addition to the Star Wars cannon.

Felicity Jones plays Jyn as a strong-minded woman with an immense sense of loyalty to her father, is her loyalty to her father or the rebellion?  Jones does a good job of keeping the audience guessing.  Jones was also excellent as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Diego Luna is also excellent as Cassian, providing the perfect foil for Jyn, trying incessantly to prove his bonafides as the O.R. Original Rebel.  Riz Ahmed is not given nearly enough to do in this film, I wish his role was more interesting.  Similarly Forrest Whittaker was given very little character development, and deserved better.  On the other hand, Donnie Yen from the Ipman films is very convincing as Chirrut, giving his character a Buddhist monk type loyalty to the force.  The writers even give Chirrut a chant.

The direction was adequate, not spectacular as it should have been.  The pacing was slow, and plodding.  Gareth Edwards did a good job of making the film look like the 1977 classic, but I wasn’t sure if he had his own vision of the movie or was just aping George Lucas’ vision.  The final battle is well-shot, but the earlier battle scenes seem run-of-the-mill. Godzilla his other major movie as a director is not that noteworthy.

Rogue One:  A force to be reckoned with.

 

southpaw

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on top of the world, he is light heavyweight champion of the world, he has a beautiful wife, named Maureen, (Rachel McAdams) and a little girl, Leila. (Oona Lawrence) After his wife dies in a bizarre accident, Billy’s perfect life starts to slip away.  In his sorrow, Jimmy starts to drink and take drugs.  A judge takes Leila away from Billy, and she is now under the Care of Child Protective Services Officer, Angela Rivera.  (Naomie Harris) Leila no longer wants to speak to Billy.

With nowhere else to go, Billy goes to work in former fighter Tick Willis’ (Forrest Whitaker) gym. Billy works hard, fixing lights and cleaning up the gym.  He convinces the judge to loosen his visitation rights with Leila, and gets Tick to train him. Billy’s former manager, Jordan Mains (50 Cent) arranges a match between Billy and the new champ, Miguel Escobar. (Miguel Gomez) Has Billy received enough training from Tick to win this match, or have the struggles of losing his wife and daughter taken too much out of Billy?

Southpaw is such a contrived, clichéd boxing film that I’m surprised Jake Gyllenhaal would sign on to do it.  Take the boxer’s name for example, Billy Hope, and he’s a white boxer.  So he’s the Great White Hope, right?  A boxer has everything, loses everything and fights for redemption, sound familiar?  Right, it’s every boxing film ever made.  Even the final decision in the fight is contrived, a spilt decision.  Do I really have to tell you how this movie turns out?  This movie makes me admire Rocky 1 even more, Stallone made a really great movie about a down and out fighter that gets one shot to do something great.  Rocky is a fantastic movie.  Southpaw is a pale imitation of Rocky.

Jake Gyllenhaal does his best to gain street cred in this film, he gets in great shape, speaks in a phony blackcent, and slurs his words like any drunk or addict would do, but it’s just not convincing enough.  Even with a face full of fake cuts, I never lost myself in this character.  Rachel McAdams plays yet another empty headed, hopelessly devoted character, I felt nothing when she died.  Forrest Whitaker plays an ersatz Mickey from the Rocky films, teaching Billy to be a better fighter, but he’s not the loveable curmudgeon that Burgess Meredith was, it’s another copy of a great performance.  And poor Naomie Harris, she had a bright future after Skyfall and Mandela, reduced to playing a boring government social worker.  She does do a good American accent though.  Finally, what the hell is 50 Cent doing in this movie?  It isn’t acting, I don’t know what it is, besides a rapper playing himself in a movie.

The director, Antoine Fuqua, started out directing music videos for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Toni Braxton and Usher.  I liked Training Day, which he directed, but since then, he’s directed movies like Olympus has Fallen,  this movie and a remake of a classic The Magnificent Seven.  The boxing scenes in Southpaw looks very choreographed, one boxer moves in and lands a few punches, and then the other boxer moves in and lands a few punches, that’s not how real boxing is. The movie is long, the pacing is slow.  There’s nothing to recommend about Fuqua’s directing in this film.

Southpaw:  Left me unimpressed.

 

the butler

Cecil Gaines (Michael Rainey Jr. Amil Ameen, Forrest Whitaker) grows up as a sharecropper on a cotton farm in Georgia.  His father is shot, and his mother Hattie (Mariah Carey) is raped by Thomas Westfall , (Alex Pettyfer) the son of the owner.  Cecil is taken in by the family matriarch Annabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) and made a house servant. At 15, Cecil is hungry and breaks into a hotel for a piece of cake, and a kindly waiter named Maynard (Clarence Williams III) takes him under his wing and teaches Cecil how to be a waiter and bartender.  Maynard gets a call from the White House and instead of taking the job, he recommends Cecil.

Cecil begins his White House career in 1957, in the Eisenhower Administration.  Eisenhower (Robin Williams) is concerned about the civil rights storm brewing as a result of Brown V. Board of Education.  John F. Kennedy (James Marsden)  beats Ike’s VP, Richard Nixon (John Cusack) in 1960.  Kennedy doesn’t really do much on civil rights, and is shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, Cecil is taken aback by JFK’s assassination.  LBJ ( Liev Schriber) passes the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  Richard Nixon vows to bring down the Black Panthers before Watergate takes him down.  Cecil serves Ford, Carter, and Reagan before resigning in 1987.

Cecil’s home life does not go nearly as smoothly as his work. His wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) has an affair with her neighbor named Howard (Terrance Howard) and develops a drinking problem.  His son Louis David Oyelowo) leaves the house to join the lunch counter protests and the Freedom Rides in the South.  Louis even joins the Black Panthers before getting disenchanted with the organization.  Do Cecil and Louis ever reconcile?

Guess what?  I Googled Cecil Gaines for a little background and Cecil’s real name is Eugene Allen, and he started in the White House in 1952, not 1957.  If the writers can’t get basic facts about this man’s life right why even bother to say, based on a true story?  The history is sloppy, the most affecting scene is the lunch counter scene, but that is undercut by the Freedom Riders scene which begins by showing a white guy flirting with a black girl.  The Freedom Rides were NOT…I repeat NOT a booty call.  The Black Panthers scene is undercut by the impression that Louis joins the Panthers, and the Civil Rights movement to impress a girl.  How shallow can the writers be?  The presidents are portrayed basically as well-meaning dolts.  LBJ arguably did more to try to lift people out of poverty than anyone.  What is the movie version of LBJ?  LBJ sitting on the toilet, sounding constipated. Nixon is portrayed as someone who wants to empower black businesses, Watergate is never mentioned.  Reagan is portrayed as a president who gives his own money to anyone who asks. Iran Contra?  Hello?  Do not get your history from the movies, especially not this movie.  I can only imagine what liberties these writers took with Mr. Allen’s life, if they’re not using his real name, chances are, many liberties.

This movie aspired to be Forrest Gump, with Whitaker in the happy simpleton Gump role and his son in the sophisticated worldly Jenny role.  Gump was a movie with a simple worldview, and it wasn’t such a great movie, but Hanks and Robin Wright and the rest of the cast made it better than its material, sadly the actors in The Butler do not rise to the occasion.  Who cast the presidents?  Robin Williams as Ike?  John Cusack as Nixon?  Was there drinking going on during the casting of this film?  Those selections make a mockery of history.

The acting is abysmal.  It should be much better with such a stellar cast.  Forrest Whitaker, with his lackadaisical delivery and Elmer Fudd voice, put me to sleep.  He was so good in The Last King of Scotland, as Idi Amin, what’s happened to him since?  Oprah Winfrey was Oprah Winfrey playing a character, I never forgot that she was Oprah, good actors can disappear in their roles, Oprah did not.  Terrence Howard is a good actor, he was mesmerizing in Hustle and Flow, he is reduced to Oprah’s lecherous next door neighbor.

The movie was long, 2 hours and fifteen minutes and the pacing was torturous, Lee Daniels just quit directing and producing altogether, you should have quit after the horrendous Paperboy movie.  What a stinking heap of compost that was.

So please, don’t waste your time and money on this movie. Buy Eyes on the Prize the 1987 book by Juan Williams if you really want to know about the Civil Rights movement.

The Butler:  Serves no purpose.