Movie Review ‘Invictus’ & ‘Avatar’

Invictus Clint Eastwood’s 2009 blockbuster film “Invictus” attempts to toe the line between a Nelson Mandela biopsy and full-on sports movie. Starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as the South African rugby team’s captain, Francois Pienaar, this film spared no costs in acquiring top-notch talent. Freeman and Eastwood have both been in awards discussions for their work on the movie. The movie follows Mandela as he supports and encourages the Springboks, the South African rugby team, in their 1994 Rugby World Cup run. Mandela reveals his belief in the team’s ability to unite the nation and inspires Pienaar to lead his team to victory. Freeman nailed Mandela’s difficult accent and mannerisms, and Damon was equally as compelling as Pienaar, despite obviously lacking Pienaar’s legendary behemoth physique. However, despite the raving reviews, “Invictus” seemed to be missing something. At no point does the film explain any of the rules of rugby or how the game flows. For American audiences, this may be especially troubling in the climactic scene when the Springboks play New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup hosted at home in South Africa. The movie also focuses too much on Mandela to be a true sports movie, and the climactic rugby scene seems forced. More emphasis on the Springbok’s only black player, Chester Williams, would have been appreciated, as he seems underdeveloped and forgettable. Pienaar’s motivational tactics are also unrealistic, as he seems to magically encourage his teammates at the flip of a coin. In the end, “Invictus” plays out like an awkward documentary of Nelson Mandela’s support for the Springboks. Everyone knows the ending, but that is not where the predictability ends. Specifically, there is a scene during the game in which a black South African boy walks up to a group of police officers listening to the game on the radio outside the stadium. At first, the police officers shoo him away. Then, all too predictably, they yield to the boy a few minutes later as he comes closer and closer to them. Eventually, at the end of the game, the boy embraces and celebrates with the white officers. If Eastwood had gone for a 100% faux-documentary or a 100% sports movie, the outcome would have been much better. Mandela is played accurately and impressively, but Pienaar’s story is more compelling. The plot of “Invictus” is too cluttered and leaves too many holes. The terrific acting from Damon, Freeman and their supporting cast manages to keep the movie entertaining, along with the touching scene in which the Springboks teach young impoverished blacks about the game of rugby. But in the end, the movie could have lived up to its enormous potential with some more direction from Eastwood. Grade: 4- Avatar James Cameron, self-proclaimed “King of the World” and director of “Titanic,” “Terminator” and “Aliens,” has again found a way to develop another money machine, “Avatar.” It is estimated that “Avatar” cost about 450 million dollars to go on screens worldwide, and it has grossed over one billion dollars in theatres. With numbers like that, one might think that “Avatar” is the movie of the century. However, that is not the case. Yes, this movie has completely reinvented the way movies can and will be made. But, while producing this visual masterpiece, Cameron and Co. seem to have forgotten that the characters and a story are important parts of a movie. The dialogue and story are recycled. Clichés such as, “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” make viewers cringe. In addition, the plot is simply a futuristic take on Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves.” “Dances with Wolves” tells the story of an American soldier who finds shelter with a Native American tribe. At first, he is shunned, alone in a foreign world. But, with time, he learns their ways, falls in love with the daughter of the tribe’s medicine man, and defends the tribe from American Calvary as the tribe is forced off its land. Ring any bells? “Avatar,” a 162 minute beast of a movie, has revolutionized the visuals of movies, but it doesn’t offer more of anything else. “Avatar” is much like Cameron’s other films, such as Terminator and Aliens: cool movies, but not good movies. People see them again and again because they are fun to watch, but not because they are stimulating or well-made. The movie, at best, is a visual treat. Be prepared to sit through almost three hours of a movie devoid of anything close to mental stimulation. Grade: 4-