Monday, December 28, 2009


"Invictus," opens with the image of a road dividing the well groomed, green rugby field for the white African team and the rough, dirt lot where black African children play. Coming down the road is the motorcade of newly elected President Nelson Mandela.

This is a movie about inspiration. President Mandela's (Morgan Freeman) resolve to unite the nation without punishing his suppressors after serving twenty-seven years as a political prisoner is indeed inspiring. Through his example, he teaches his country how to forgive.

Knowing that his county is still racially divided in the wake of apartheid, the President enlists the help of the national rugby Team Captain (Matt Damon in his most buff and tan) to unite the country with the universal language of sports. Africa is hosting the Rugby World Cup Championship and he knows that the eyes of the world are on them. His first task is to inspire the team to overcome their losing streak and win the championship. But the bigger challenge is to inspire his hostile countrymen to rally around the mostly white team.

Unfortunately, the sports section of the movie isn't as moving as it could have been and therefore less inspiring. President Mandela gives the Team Captain the poem, "Invictus" for inspiration. (Mandela got strength from this poem to survive those hard years in prison.) The Team Captain surprises his players with a visit to Mandela's tiny prison cell. But an opportunity is lost when he doesn't share the poem with his team. The audience hears the poem as a voice over. (My frustration increased when I couldn't make out a few of the words.) Here it is:

by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Perhaps the screenwriter was trying to keep to the true story. In sports stories there is always the problem of creating suspense when we know who will win. And this definitely is a problem here. Apparently, the game was not an emotional roller coaster. Instead the writer uses the possibility of an assassination to create tension. I'm not saying there are no inspiring moments. There are several. It's just not as moving as it could have been. (I wonder if director Clint Eastwood was trying to avoid having the movie called sappy...?) It is still a three, maybe three and a half, star movie. Who wouldn't root for Morgan Freeman in a strong (however tall) portrayal of Nelson Mandela?
Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year with lots of movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Friday, December 04, 2009

Paris at the Loft.

If you have been longing for a trip to Paris, you only need to travel as far as the Loft Cinema. Last week there were three fine films that featured the City of Love: "An Education," "Coco Before Channel," and "Paris." You can still catch a double feature of "Paris" and "Coco Before Channel" at the Loft. Sorry for not writing about "An Education" sooner, but the Loft newsletter assures me that it will screen again.

Two of the films, "An Education" and "Coco Before Channel" are period pieces dealing with the confines of class and gender (both directed by women.) In all three films, Paris is presented as a city full of life, inspiration, and love.

In Lone Schefig's,  "An Education", Jenny Mellor, a bright English schoolgirl, (played by the incandescent Carey Mulligan) is pressured by her father to give all her attention to her boring studies in order to get accepted into Oxford University. Jenny is tempted to give up that dream when a charming older man (Peter Sarsgaard) offers her the finer things in life - music and culture and Paris! At first glance, this appears to be a morality play about the perils of being a fallen woman in the 1960's, but it goes on to explore the confines of society on women. Her father wants a better life for her, but admits that she would be going to Oxford to land a husband. A college education was not meant to open up new opportunities for women but to prepare them to be a respectable wives or educators. Jenny gets a fast education. She learns that the easy path may not be the most rewarding.

In Anne Fontaine's, "Coco Before Channel," Coco (the charismatic Audrey Tautou) is driven to overcome the confines of her class and gender to drastically alter the fashion of her times. Abandoned by her father and raised in an orphanage, Coco struggles to make a living performing with her sister Adrienne and working as a seamstress. When a duke falls in love with her sister, Adrienne leaves with him believing that she will be raised to his social standing. Coco uses this connection and her natural advantages to gain entree into the estate of Baron Balson. Coco is kept on as an amusement to the Baron and his guests. To free herself from the confines of the ladies' fashions of the time, Coco tailors her lover's cloths to allow her to ride horses and breath freely. She finds the hats of the time frivolous and designs a simple straw hat that becomes popular with the Baron's guests. In the process, she gains self respect and the love of an English businessman who recognizes her vision and potential. With his support and financial backing, she opens a successful hat business in Paris. But it is her unique vision and drive that makes Coco Channel the fashion icon of the twentieth century.

In "Paris," there is a story around every corner. A young heart transplant candidate, Pierre, looks down from his balcony to the busy streets of Paris. He finds comfort in observing the everyday details of other peoples lives as his own may be slipping away. A history professor begins to regret the sacrifices he made for his career after his father passes away. In a clumsy, urgent attempt to find love, he sends a text message to an unobtainable coed. An open air market vender must learn to live again after losing his wife. When Pierre's sister Elise (Juliette Binoche) puts her life on hold to take care of him, they both realize that she has just been going through the motions since her husband left. Pierre convinces her that her life isn't over - it is just beginning.

"Paris" was my favorite of the three films. It was full of so many things that make Paris great: the history, inspiration, life, and love!

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

To add a little art for your viewing pleasure, check out "Séraphine" (see review below)set just out side of Paris.