Two for the Money (****)

As the movie started and the words “based on a true story” displayed across the screen I knew I was in for more than what I had originally bargained for. A scene in the previews for the movie had really interested me from the moment I first saw it. Al Pacino grabs McConaughey by the back of the neck and whispers into his ear something like “If you want something from me you are going to have to earn it, and then rip it from my cold dead hands.”

I love Al Pacino; while he is not one of my all time favorite actors I have enjoyed all the movies that I have seen him in. He personifies a strong character better than other people that might have a more commanding presence. One of the interesting aspects of his character in this movie is that it also had a vulnerable side to it, something I don’t remember as clearly from his other portrayals. While there was the physical weakness that his character had, his emotional one was a lot deeper and damaging.

The movie started delivering from its first scene. The emotional set up of a kid trying to please his father at all cost really paved the way for the movie and made it believable. It was something that was very necessary not only because of what the based on a true story means but also because the perseverance that the character showed was outstanding, if not foolish at times. Brandon really wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a professional athlete at all cost, and until faith stepped it he seemed to want to be stuck in a dead end where a single track mind was keeping him back from greatness at maybe other careers.

Rene Russo played Al Pacino’s wife flawlessly. A complex character from difficult beginning that was everything that Al Pacino’s character needed to balance him. Several scenes in the movie really show how behind every great man, there is always a great woman. Her delivery was not only believable but showed commitment to the character. Her character built the bridge that the very polar characters portrayed by Pacino and McConaughey needed. Also worthy of mention is Jeremy Piven who’s fast talking character really helps build some great scenes in the movie.
The movie was already earning four stars, but then Al Pacino delivered a speech in an AA style addiction meeting for gamblers that truly put the whole movie into a different perspective for me. Pacino told the other addicts that their addiction to gambling had nothing to do with winning, but with losing. They were al lemons, damaged human beings that needed the reassurance of losing to feel like they were still alive. From that moment forward I watched as his character continually gambled with his own life. That cemented the four stars and a full recommendation to go rent or buy the DVD today. You will love this movie.

As if this movie needed any other reason to be cooler, the person the movie was based on is actually from Midland, Michigan. I had to rewind the special features like 5 times before I convinced myself that he was saying, Midland, Michigan. His name is Brandon Lang and he actually has his own website. He also has some cool words to say about McConaughey

One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received in my life came from Matthew, who said “Thank you for bringing me a character where I had to dig down and draw on the emotions that every actor dreams about. This was by far my most enjoyable role.” You can’t beat that. A kid from Midland, Michigan getting complimented by a major Hollywood actor. Talk about dreams coming true!

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Two For The Money.

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Oprah and Crash

I have to admit that I did not always like Oprah. I had thought that Oprah was one of the feminists that I wouldn’t like, that instead of empowering woman, they trash man. Until recently I had not watched Oprah much, and I realized that she is actually a wonderful person. While I still hold on to Aaron MacGrueder’s quote; “We should all harbor a healthy fear of Oprah,” I think her TV show has done wonders for informing the public about situations all over the world and presented some of the best coverage I saw about the Katrina disaster.

Yesterday Oprah hosted the cast of Crash. If you have not seen the movie Crash and want to do it in the future, you might want to stop reading now. Crash is a very in your face movie about racism. I was very surprised to see the cast of stars that starred in the movie. This movie uses various stories that are connected via the characters. Everyone has something to do with everyone else on one level or another in the movie, ultimately connecting the various story lines together.

The movie starts with Don Cheadle speaking the following quote as his character Detective Graham Waters,

It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

When I watched this movie I found its meaning so powerful that I had to write this post about human touch. I believe in the power of human contact to express affection, and it is a topic that has been researched by many. This is an interesting article by one of the first things I heard about it back in College even thought the article can be somewhat strong.

Oprah invited Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock and Ludacris to this panel discussion. They began by showing a clip of the movie where two young black man(one of them being played by Ludacris) are having a conversation about how white women (the one in the scene played by Sandra Bullock) will, upon seeing them, hold a little tighter to their husbands arm as they walk down the street. The conversation is about racism and it makes some excellent points, only seconds later you learn that the two black man are carjackers and are stealing a black Navigator from that same couple. This scene sparked the conversation about racism and fear. Racism can come from fear, fear based on prejudice. Prejudice is dictated not only by our environment but also society. Animals have instincts, when a gazelle out in the plains smells a lion it instinctually will run for its survival. Does the same rule apply here? Is that prejudice such a bad thing when you are just trying to protect yourself and your family?

The movie does a great job at posing those questions. It makes you look int the mirror and see that whether you like it or not you live in a society where stereotypes are as common and numerous as our clothes. Take me for example:

I am Colombian so I should know a lot about drugs, coffee and violence.
I am a gamer therefore I have no social skills and am an overall loser.
I am a biker so I must constantly break speed limits and get into a lot of bar fights.
I am a computer programmer, which makes me a geek incapable of discussing any subjects outside of software.
I have a tattoo, which makes me almost a criminal, and up to no good.

I have been a victim of all the generalizations before at one point or another in my life. Our society does not concentrate on individuals but on labels that categorize things around them. Anything different or out of the ordinary can make people nervous and in the end become prejudice. Now, how can we break down those barriers? One of the things I try to do is meet people from all walks of life and look at them as individuals. I am not perfect; I still fall prey of prejudice-fueled thoughts and stereotypes all the time.

Oprah continued showing clips from the movie. The next scene shows Matt Dillon playing a racist cop that takes care of his ill Father and then has to deal with, what seemed to him, an unhelpful and incompetent black insurance worker. Matt takes out his frustration on a black couple that he pulls over because they are driving a vehicle that meets the description of the recently stolen Navigator. During the stop Dillon dehumanizes the black couple played by Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton by humiliating the husband as he fondles his wife, feeling powerless and overtaken by a mixture of fear, shame and impotence. This is described as another “Crash” moment during the movie, a moment where people collide and race takes a forefront instead of the characters humanity. The movie has several twists and turns and some of the people get to see each other again under different circumstances. A lot of the situations are racially charged and will make people very uncomfortable, some more than others because of the emotional impact they carry. While all the characters play their race stereotype we can also see their human side and how we, even if we are not from the same race, can relate to their emotions.

I had seen Terrence Howard before in a couple of movies. I did not think he was an excellent actor before and I was dismissive of his work. After watching this movie and this interview I have a new respect for him as an actor and as a man. He has had a couple of “Crash” moments in real life. One as an adult when he was arrested after standing up in a plane to take his daughter to the bathroom, the incident was blown out of proportion and he spent a week in jail. This happened pre 9-11 and if you hear the full story you cannot feel anything but sorry for the guy. The other “Crash” moment is even sadder; while in a Santa line in the mall back in 1972 his Father was assaulted and then killed a man in self defense ending up in prison. His parents were both mixed, but his Father happened to be more Caucasian looking than his mother. His Father was saving their spot in the Santa line and when his wife and kids came back a man behind him complained to him about letting the n**** cut in line. His Father replied, “She is my wife.” The white man preceded to choke his him against a wall and started to beat him down… he fought back eventually killing the man and went to jail. I cannot imagine being an actor that has had to deal with so much racially motivated pain playing the scene where the cop feels up his wife.

The rest of the show was excellent; racism was discussed and defined by an expert. One fact that I learned is that 97% of women are raped by their own race. Oprah also brought up the use of the n**** word and how she wants to abolish it… surprisingly Don Cheadle feels that it should be ok for the word to be used between black people.

In conclusion Oprah presented us with an excellent panel that discussed a very good movie about a very touchy subject. I wish I could have told people to watch the show before hand, you can check out some of it on Oprah’s website or wait for a rerun. In the mean time go rent or buy the DVD.

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Crash.
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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (***)

I recently read the book partly because the movie was coming out. I enjoyed the book and felt it was well written, I was actually amazed at how well it translated into a movie. While not every single detail in the movie was faithful to the book; which could have been, the book is quite short; everything that was important to the story was included. The message was the same even thought it was not as Christian as the book was. The same story of redemption and resurrection were intact but they did not feel overly religious.

The acting in the movie was better than I expected. All the kids played their roles very good with the exception of Peter. I felt he could have been a little stronger without shouting to express emotion. Tilda Swinton, who played Gabriel in Constantine, was perfectly cast as the White Witch. Liam Neeson was also excellent as the voice of Aslan.

The CGI in the movie did not impress me or disappoint me. I was able to see when and how it was being used and it did not detract from the story. I am not sure what the budget was for the movie so I cannot really complain too much about it. All the battle scenes were done without the use of tons of blood or gore and still delivered the intensity the story demanded.

Overall this is an excellent family movie. It has a strong message of good vs evil, teaches responsibility and redemption. I think that it is a most see for kids and it is good enough to go visit the movie theater.

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
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Equilibrium (****)

Some of the best movies I have watched have been recommendations by friends. In some cases those films that did not have any commercial success but still become “cult” classics by simple word of mouth. My best example is the Boondock Saints, a movie that most people that watch it instantly love but was never released in the theaters (more here). I had not heard of Equilibrium until one of my motorcycle friends used a picture from the movie as his avatar. The picture was a guy in a very cool looking white suit holding two guns in an almost martial art like stance. I was intrigued and after asking my friend about it he said it was a must see.

Expectations were not super high, but I did want to see some awesome gunfights. I love John Woo kind of action, so I expected something similar. As the movie began, I started to realize that this was not your typical action flick; it had some images that set the tone for an almost political history channel documentary about the 20th century. Then without slowing the movie too much the the background story is presented. Then the action begins and makes you wish the gunfights would never stop.

The movie makes you think- something I love about any movie. I don’t want to give away too much, but lets just say that it deals with the promise of a perfect society. This futuristic theme has been explored in many movies, but I like the way Equilibrium did it because it really dug into the fundamental thing that makes us human.

The acting was very good. Of the roles that I have seen Christian Bale play, I would say this is the best. I think he did an ok job with Batman begins, but at times he was more of a supporting actor to Liam Neeson in any scene they were together. Bale leads in this movie and does it well. Another good actor is his son in the movie; Matthew Harbour does an excellent job with a character that would have been challenging to most adult actors.

This was not a huge budget movie, and I think most of the budget was spent on the gunfights. It was money well spent because they are all very engaging. The overall scenery works, but it is not a wow factor. The rest of the special effects are not the best, but they help tell the story. Overall the story and drama are the true center stone of the movie and make it work. I think everyone should watch it, and even though it is a little sci-fi don’t let that turn you off. Go rent this movie today you will not regret it.


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Equilibrium.
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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (****)

I have to admit I am partial here. I love the book series and I have grown to love the movies also. After being somewhat disappointed with some aspects of the movies, re-watching them on DVD and hearing some interviews with J.K. Rowling has made me understand that her vision is intact even if the details in the movies are not all hers. It is exciting to think that she has a very open approach and it is not a purist. If the author is not, why should I be?

The movie is an action filled with exceptional special effects. The CGI only was very noticeable twice during the movie and not enough to bother me. The events felt very real and the choice to center the movie on the Triwizard tournament was the right one.

One of my disappointments were not seeing more of the world cup, quiditch is one of my favorite aspects of the book. The other was the acting. Radcliffe is not a bad actor and neither is Grint, but Emma Watson keeps on disappointing me. Her look fits Hermoine but her acting at times seems forced and unnatural. I am aware that she is acting and it detracts from the movie. Grint is probably my favorite actor of the 3, he really makes me believe he is Ron every single scene. All the casting fit the new characters except for Madame Maxine who looked nothing like I had imagine her, and Moody who was not at all like what I had pictured him my head. I also miss Richard Harris, Gambon seemed like he was going to be a good Dumbledore but his performance in this movie did not give the feel of the greatest wizard that ever lived.

The action scenes were done very well, it was exciting to watch. Voldemort was even more repulsive than I had imagined him and Ralph Fiennes’ performance was a lot better than what I had imagined while reading the book. I should not have expected less from the guy that did Red Dragon. Having the other school’s visit Hogwarts was done very well. The movie is a must watch in the theaters. Go now, what are you waiting for.


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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
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