As with other films, the background I have about this film was limited. South Africa — nada. Rugby — less than nada. But, it’s an Eastwood film and it has two of my favorite actors, so what the heck. And, boy, what a great film. Morgan Freeman does a spectular job of playing Mandela…he’s less about the looks of the Nobel Prize winner and more about the persona. So, at the start of the film in the early 1990s, Mandela gets out of jail and is elected to president. Apartheid is over. Mandela sees rugby and it’s “whites” only popularity as a way to try and help some of the white South Africans that he determined to unite his racially divided country. Matt Damon plays the rugby team captain who is in awe of the inspiring Mandela. Some believe (both black and white) that Mandela’s focus on rugby as a uniting tool is fooling. The blacks want to know why he is focusing this much attention on a white sport. And the whites don’t believe he is sincere and feel he has some sort of ulterior motive. South African politics are a big part of this film, as is rugby. Knowing next to nothing about those subjects did not hinder my enjoyment here. The story is intense and passionate enough sustain interest throughout. This film is about heart and friendship. It’s about determination and spirit. It’s a movie for all — not only political or sports junkies.

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Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a former violent cowboy who turns over a new leaf. Now a father and a widower, he finds out whether he still has that violent streak. Eastwood and a friend (Morgan Freeman) decide to collect a bounty in a corrupt town, run by a detestable sheriff (Gene Hackman). Called a “psychological” Western, this film won Eastwood his first Oscar for Best Director, in addition to snagging Best Picture and a Supporting Actor Oscar for Hackman.

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“Get busy living, or get busy dying.” There is more sentiment in that one quote from The Shawshank Redemption than there are in most movies. This film is a true modern treasure—a timeless film that will be remembered and revered with the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life and other poignant classics. The story, based on a Stephen King short story, starts off quickly, with the trial of Andy Dufresne playing over the opening credits. The trial is not the important part here and by filming the opening in that way, director Frank Darabont lets his audience know that we do not need to show how Andy was falsely accused. It is just important to know that he is. The real importance of this film lies in the relationship between two heterosexual men and that no matter how bleak things look, one should never, ever give up hope. There is nothing strange about the relationship between Andy and Red. They just are two men who form a deep bond of love while incarcerated. The middle of the film takes the audience on various other little journeys, such as the saga of prison librarian Brooks, who gets released after 50+ years at Shawshank Prison. The stories of these other characters strengthen the movie’s base as a powerful, inspirational story about love and hope. One of the best film endings ever, the last 20 minutes of this film are even stronger than the first 20, something very few films can attest to. Anyone who has been staying away from this film because they think it is a “prison” movie is missing out on one of the best on-screen relationships (whether platonic or romantic) ever conceived. And, just try watching this one without getting a lump in your throat or tears in your eyes. For both men and women, that’s a very tall order.

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Gritty and intense, this film is one of the more noir-esque films of the end of the 20th Century. It’s dark and brooding, as film noir films of yesterday, but it is quite brutal, which of course is the sign it’s a movie of the modern era. Brad Pitt plays a newly transferred cop who gets partnered with a soon-to-be-retiring cop, played by Morgan Freeman. The two begins to investigate a series of very brutal crimes based on the seven deadly sins. Freeman’s character is methodical and deliberate. Pitt’s cop is brash and overeager. Together, though, they solve the crimes and find the criminal…but is it too late? The use of a film technique called “bleach bypass” helped the movie get its dark, shadow-filled look. And, boy does it work…because even when nothing sinister is going on, the film retains its stark feel…giving the audience a constant feeling of dread.

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This is one of the best films I’ve seen in a while…mostly because it’s so well done (and also because the penguins are just so darn cute). In reality, this film is a documentary, but with the way it is structured and told (with perfect narration by Morgan Freeman), this film takes on an epic quality. Like Gone with the Wind, this film is a saga. Gone with the Wind is a fictional saga of one spoiled woman in the Civil War South. March of the Penguins is a saga about the yearly penguin brigade from their home to the place where they mate and raise their young and back home again. The story doesn’t single out any one penguin in particular. Rather, it speaks of them as a group…which is appropriate since as a group huddled together is how they survive the harsh Antarctic winters. The scenery is breathtaking and the cinematography is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. At first, I thought this was going to be another IMAX-esque documentary about penguins at the South Pole. This film, though, is so much more than that. It is an odyssey…about more than just heading from one place to another for mating…it’s a love story of how these creatures bond with their babies to keep the little ones alive and with each other to survive in the harsh elements. The audience becomes so enthralled with these creatures that somehow, their pain and hardship affects us just as much or even more than actors in a feature film.

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True, Lucky Number Slevin has flaws but what action film made today doesn’t? And considering that unlike most actions film, this one has a clever plot and some semblance of intelligent characters, I was able to overlook the few problems with the film. From the excellent cast (all of whom give wonderful performances…including Josh Hartnett who I have dismissed in the past as just a pretty face) to the sharp twists and turns that keep the audience riveted, this film keeps the pace up and the tension high…what more can you ask for in a action film? But, this film goes above and beyond even those meager expectations of today and adds some true smarts to this often-silly genre. Lucky Number Slevin begins with the Josh Hartnett character getting caught in a case of mistaken identity. The identity he is mistaken for is asked by two different crime bosses to kill two different people. Along the way, he meets Lucy Lu who helps him decide what to do in his deadly predicament. This film could have easily also been made into a stylized thriller rather than a shoot-‘um-up action flick. I would say that VERY FEW action movies of today (use The Fast and the Furious series as an example) would stand alone without the explosions and fight scenes. Lucky Number Slevin would be just as good, if not better, a film without all of that extra added special effects.

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