Nelson Mandela, who passed away in December 2013 at the age of 95, lived enough life to fill many films.
Aspects of his life have been portrayed on big and small screens by everyone from Sidney Poitier to Morgan Freeman to Dennis Haysbert to Terrence Howard, in everything from the British satirical television show “Spitting Image” to a TV mini-series and the Oscar nominated “Invictus.”
“Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom,” starring Idris Alba, and adapted from Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, attempts to cover almost seven decades of his story.
Mandela wore many titles. Born into the Thembu royal family in rural South Africa we first see him as an adult in 1942 Johannesburg. He’s a lawyer in a country where a judge contemptuously refers to him as “boy.”
Through direct exposure to social injustice he becomes politicized and soon the young attorney is the public face of African resistance. “Why should we obey their laws?” he says of the white minority who run the country. “We don’t have a vote. They are having a party and we’re not invited.”
From street corner speechmaking and taking part in non-violent boycotts he soon rises to prominence in the African National Congress. From there, in retaliation for government brutality against black South Africans the ANC turned to radical activism, leading to the arrest and conviction of Mandela and several colleagues. Imprisoned for treason he spends the next twenty-seven years separated from his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris), his family and country but he never gives up hope.
In 1992, with the eyes of the world on South Africa, Mandela is released, having brokered a deal with President F.W. de Klerk (Gys de Villiers) to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections. In 1994 he was elected South Africa’s first black president.
The movie is a Coles Notes of Mandela’s storied life, adopting a greatest hits style of story telling. All the major highlights of his time are covered and as a quick history lesson it works well. It shows the scope, importance and influence of the man’s life, but the all-inclusive approach brings with it information overload. How do you wedge a life as big as Mandela’s into a two-hour-and-fifteen minute movie?
There’s a shorthand these kind of big biopics use. For instance, when Mandela meets Winnie for the first time he comments on how she is the first black social worker at a large hospital and adds that she is also the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. The two bits of unconnected info—expositional and declarative—fall into a classic style of story telling these sprawling movies use to convey a lot of information in as little time as possible but don’t sound authentic to the ear.
“Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom” feels old fashioned, like the kind of biography Richard Attenborough specialized in.
The movie may have been more effective if the filmmakers had chosen instead to examine one aspect of Mandela’s life. Recently “My Week With Marilyn” took seven days in the life of Marilyn Monroe and used the condensed time frame to really explore the actress’s character and the result was revelatory.
With a life as rich in detail as Mandela’s there are more than enough opportunities to dissect the story into interesting eras.
Having said that, “The Long Walk to Freedom” is an interesting movie. There’s beautiful South African music and scenery punctuated by ugly scenes of racism, a powerful performances from Alba and Harris who both bring passion and heat to their roles.
At the end of the sprawling story, however, it is Mandela’s legacy of love, forgiveness and reconciliation that makes the biggest impression.
When the nine old friends of “The Best Man’s Holiday” get together for Christmas it’s like a cross between a soap opera and a reality show. Imagine “As the World Turns” as told by Teresa Giudice and Flavor Flav.
In this sorta sequel to 1999’s “The Best Man,” The Sullivans, NFL legend Lance (Morris Chestnut) and wife Mia (Monica Calhoun), plan on a happy Christmas holiday when they invite their closest friends to spend the Christmas holidays at their palatial home.
Here’s a scorecard of the attendees: Former best selling author Harper (Taye Diggs), his pregnant chef wife Robin (Sanaa Lathan), network head (and Harper’s former flame) Jordan (Nia Long), school dean Julian Murch (Harold Perrineau) and his ex-stripper wife Candace (Regina Hall), heavy-lidded party boy Quentin (Terrence Howard) and Shelby (Melissa De Sousa), a reality TV star.
Instead of eggnog and Yuletide carols around the hearth, however, old rivalries rear their ugly heads before a tragedy reminds everyone what friendship is all about.
“The Best Man’s Holiday” is one long cliché. The script telegraphs every plot twist and turn with the subtlety of a kick to the shins and never misses an opportunity to overplay a big melodramatic moment or perform an illegal tonal u-turn mid-scene.
And yet it is a crowd pleaser.
Sometimes clichés are clichés because they’re true and resonate with people, and I guess that is one of the strengths of “The Best Man’s Holiday.” You’ll see everything coming a mile away, you’ll feel manipulated but you’ll also laugh and maybe even shed a tear.
It’s a film built for audiences who enjoy the vulgar rowdiness of reality TV and the comforting clichés of soap opera storytelling.
Is it a good film? Not really, but the better-looking-than-average ensemble cast brings with them loads of charm and the chemistry they share actually puts you onside with the characters despite the paint-by-numbers script.
They’re all engaging performers but Howard stands out in one of his rare forays into comedy.
“The Best Man’s Holiday” isn’t “Best Of” list material but despite being about half-an-hour too long is engaging holiday fare.
The Return of the Secaucus Seven sees a group of college friends come together 10 years after they were arrested on the way to a 1970 peace protest in Washington D.C.
In the 1979 film they reminisce about the good old days, flirt and establish the basic theme of all reunion movies: “What’s a little reunion without a little drama?”
This weekend Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Taye Diggs and Morris Chestnut are part of a core group of college friends who put that theory to the test in The Best Man Holiday. As IMDB says, expect “long-forgotten rivalries and romances to be ignited.”
The idea of seeing old friends and frenemies after a long break offers loads of opportunities for drama and comedy.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion played their high school 10th anniversary get together for laughs. The pair of friends big up their post Grade 12 adventures in an effort to intimidate their old friends.
“Well, I thought the whole point of going to the reunion was to impress people,” says Michele (Lisa Kudrow). “I mean, how am I gonna impress anybody by selling ban-lon smocks at Bargain Mart.”
National Lampoon’s Class Reunion takes a different comedic approach to the subject.
Mixing murder with nostalgia, it’s the story of Walter Baylor (Blackie Dammett, father of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ singer Anthony Kiedis), an unhinged nerd seeking revenge during his 10th high school reunion as payback for a mean prank played on him during senior year.
“One more move and she gets a hole where she doesn’t need one,” says Walter.
Grosse Pointe Blank takes a more wistful approach to post school socials. John Cusack plays a mysterious graduate who has a life changing epiphany 10 years after graduation.
“You know,” he says, “when you started getting invited to your 10-year high school reunion, time is catching up.”
Complicating matters is his job. He’s a hit man.
“What am I gonna say? ‘I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How’ve you been?’”
He’s hired to bump off the father of his high school girlfriend for whom he still has feelings.
More somber is Young Adult, a Charlize Theron dramedy about Mavis Grey (Theron), a ghostwriter of novels for teens who accepts an invite for a baby shower from her high school ex-boyfriend, hoping that he will fall back in love with her during their reunion.
“Sometimes in order to heal,” Charlize Theron says, “A few people have to get hurt.”
SYNOPSIS: The story is fairly simple. Best friends Keller and Grace Dover (Jackman and Maria Bello), Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) and their kids spend Thanksgiving together. (more…)
“Death Wish,” the Charles Bronson revenge drama, painted its main character as a vigilante hero, someone who evened the score when the police couldn’t.
“Prisoners,” a new child abduction drama starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Terrence Howard, isn’t as cut and dried. It asks the question, How far would you go to get the information you need to protect your family?
The story is fairly simple. Best friends Keller and Grace Dover (Jackman and Maria Bello), Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) and their kids spend Thanksgiving together. After dinner the youngest members of the family, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) go for a walk and never return.
Panicked, the family search the neighborhood and when they come up empty the police are called with a description of the girls and a suspicious RV that was seen in the area. The camper is racked down and Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) arrests a suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano).
Keller is convinced the police have the right man and when Alex is released, he takes matters into his own hands. Kidnapping Jones, he tries to beat a confession out of him. When that doesn’t work his methods escalate.
There is a serial killer subplot woven into “Prisoners,” but it detracts from the core element that makes the movie interesting. Jackman brings the full weight of Keller’s anguish to the screen, and his performance carries with it the moral dilemma of the movie. The serial killer element feels tacked on, as though screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski felt he needed to up the tension with a “Criminal Minds” style plot twist.
It’s too bad, because the last hour—the movie clocks in at 150 minutes—feels unnecessary. The procedural elements is interesting until the red herrings start and the movie moves away from the ethical question that propelled the first half.
“Prisoners” is compelling stuff. At its heart it is a family drama with a twist. But as is, it almost feels like two movies.
If you don’t know who Channing Tatum is you’re probably older than sixteen. If you’re curious go look in your daughter’s bedroom right now. To the left of the Zac Efron shrine is very likely a poster of the buff young actor. Compared to Johnny Depp and Efron Tatum is a minor deity, a good looking guy whose main claim to fame has been a couple of teen dance movies and a guest spot on CSI: Miami. At twenty-nine-years-old the chiseled actor is now straddling the line between teen fare and adults roles. He’s had a couple of stabs at adult fame in films that failed, but his new one, Fighting, co-starring Terence Howard, is a good transitional movie for him; a film with enough action for the kids and enough grit for the adults.
Story wise Fighting doesn’t break any new ground. It’s a classic underdog story. It’s Billy Elliot with choke holds or Rocky without the gloves. Tatum is Shawn MacArthur a scrappy New York City street kid with a troubled past. When he crosses paths with small time hustler Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) the two go into bare knuckle fight business—Harvey has the contacts, Shawn has the fists of fury. Shawn becomes a street fighting champion but his success and money don’t ease his troubled mind.
Set in the down-and-dirty NYC unseen since movies like Across 110th Street, Fighting is the New York Rudy Giuliani tried so hard to sanitize. Hustlers are everywhere, underground fighting is big business and nothing good ever happens after 10 pm. It’s a nice, unsentimental backdrop to the story, and with handheld camera in hand director Dito Montiel takes pains to use the cityscape to create a volatile and exciting atmosphere.
In terms of volatile Fighting certainly lives up to its name. The ouch-inducing fight scenes are brutal in their realism, with every smack and punch lovingly recorded in bone splitting surround sound. They are the film’s center pieces, but the fight scenes don’t get in the way of the story or vice versa. There’s a nice balance between the action and narrative, although a love story slows the momentum in the second half.
The film is jam packed with naturalistic performances. Nicely cast supporting roles like Roger Guenveur Smith who seems to be channeling Christopher Walken as the sleazy bookie Jack Dancing and the scene stealing Alba Guzmán as the nosy grandmother are complimented by effective background actors (like Loud Club Wannabe and Flawless Woman Number 1) who effectively add to the film’s realistic mood.
Tatum isn’t likely to win any trophies for his work unless the Elliptical Trainers of America bring back their Buff Awards this year but he brings his character to life, even giving him a few unexpected dimensions. Who knew street fighters were so polite?
The one to watch is Terrence Howard, who after a disappointing run of average work in films like August Rush and even Iron Man, hands in an edgy performance that mixes street smarts with some effeminate mannerisms to create his most memorable character since Hustle and Flow.
Fighting is a better than expected drama, that, while somewhat predictable, hooks the viewer with interesting characters and UFC-style flying fists.
In the past classically trained actor Samuel L. Jackson has blasted rappers who take on movie roles with little or no acting experience. I haven’t always agreed with his take on musicians turned thespians—Mos Def and Will Smith are credible actors—but after seeing Get Rich or Die Tryin’ I see his point. In this rap to riches story loosely based on Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s life, the rapper’s face is a blank slate that conveys little emotion. In one scene of the movie his grandmother says, “When I look into your eyes I don’t know what you’re thinking.” I agree with her. Co-star Terrence Howard is a terrific actor whose presence in the movie only emphasizes the rapper’s lack of ability. The performance possibly could have been saved if they had let him do what he does best—rap. For a film about a young man who dreams of being a hip hop star there is surprisingly little music here. There’s more talking about rapping than actual rapping and we only catch one short glimpse of 50 Cent in his natural habitat—on-stage.
This is a classic story about an alienated youth who wants to rise above the bad hand life has dealt to him—a drug dealing mother who is killed early on, a job as a low-level drug pusher—which could have been compelling, but instead comes across as clichéd.