Tag Archives: Anthony Mackie

Million Dollar Baby (2004, Clint Eastwood)

Million Dollar Baby has a somewhat significant plot twist. Well, it actually has a couple of them. And neither comes with much foreshadowing. A little in Paul Haggis’s script, which director Eastwood visualizes appropriately, but they’re in the background. The film has its larger than life story to worry about–Clint Eastwood as a stogy old boxing trainer taking on a female boxer, played by Hilary Swank. Except she’s not a kid. She’s a grown woman.

The film opens without cast title cards. Immediately, it’s very smooth. Eastwood has a gym, Morgan Freeman runs it for him. There are assorted goings-on at the gym involving the guys training there. It’s a great supporting cast at the gym–Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Anthony Mackie–but the gym is initially just where Eastwood hangs out, not where he interacts. So instead Freeman is telling him the goings-on, which does fantastic setup for their relationship throughout the film. Only when Swank arrives does Eastwood get forced to participate and only after prodding from Freeman.

It’s great character development, funny, sweet, sincere. Eastwood’s very careful not to push too hard on any emotional buttons. He makes sure the actors’ emotions are authentic and doesn’t lay it on with the filmmaking. Tom Stern shoots Million Dollar Baby with crispness for the daytime scenes and sharpness with the nighttime. It works as to how the performances come across, how Joel Cox edits them. If it weren’t for how well Haggis’s script works, especially how it integrates Freeman’s narration, Million Dollar Baby might just be one of film’s finest melodramas. Well, if Eastwood–who does a lot in Million Dollar Baby as an actor and a director–wanted to make a melodrama.

He doesn’t though. Instead, he makes this strangely small, while still big, character study of three people and a location and shared experiences. Most of the film takes place in the gym. It’s the touchstone for the characters and the audience. Eastwood and Haggis never wax on about the hopes and dreams of the boxers at the gym–or even Swank’s. It’s not a meditation on the sport of boxing. It’s this devastating human condition piece, with characters revealing depths the entire length of the film, both through scripted dialogue and the actors’ performances. All of the acting is great; Swank is the best, but Eastwood’s the most surprising. You never once get the feeling Eastwood ever has an idea of what he’s going to say to Swank.

Freeman is great too, in the film’s most “of course” sort of way. He gets to be a bit of a mystery and has some fun with it. He narrates and he’s never untrustworthy or anything, he just isn’t telling his own story and it turns out–thanks to Freeman and Haggis–it adds to the film.

Eastwood also did the music, which is sort of unsurprising and also fantastic. The music is perfect. It’s such a strange film, this gentle American Dream rumination, celebration, and condemnation. It’s always sincere, never cynical, never defeatist, but never hopeful either. Eastwood’s filmmaking is focused character study. The music is restrained and minimal.

So many different things are going on in the film at any moment–whether it’s Swank’s Rocky story, Eastwood’s aging one, Freeman’s supporting mostly wry one, Eastwood and Haggis rely heavily on that Freeman narration. He never disappoints. Million Dollar Baby is kind of a love letter; all of a sudden I’m wondering how the script was written with the narration or if it was cut together later.

Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman don’t reinvent the melodrama; they just perfect the melodramatic character study. Ably assisted by Haggis, Stern, and Cox. Million Dollar Baby is phenomenal.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Paul Haggis, based on stories by F.X. Toole; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox; music by Eastwood; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood, Haggis, Tom Rosenberg, and Albert S. Ruddy; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Frankie Dunn), Hilary Swank (Maggie Fitzgerald), Morgan Freeman (Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris), Brían F. O’Byrne (Father Horvak), Jay Baruchel (Danger Barch), Anthony Mackie (Shawrelle Berry), Mike Colter (Big Willie Little), Lucia Rijker (Billie “The Blue Bear” Osterman), and Margo Martindale (Earline Fitzgerald).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE PLAY TO THE WHISTLE BLOGATHON HOSTED BY KIRA OF FILM AND TV 101 AND JOSH OF REFFING MOVIES.


RELATED

Advertisements

Freedomland (2006, Joe Roth)

I didn’t see Freedomland when it came out because I loved the novel and Richard Price adapting the novel or not, the movie’s cast and crew aren’t encouraging it. No movie directed by Joe Roth should inspire confidence, especially not one about racism. Freedomland is about racism. It’s about the really uncomfortable realities of racism. Not racist cops, but racist people. The film opens telling the viewer it takes place in 1999, which when the novel should have been adapted. Possibly even starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore in the leads. Possibly with the entire supporting cast intact. But not with Joe Roth directing. Not directing it in Panavision aspect. Not with really slick photography from Anastas N. Michos and awful slick rapid fire editing from Nick Moore. Not with the James Newton Howard occasionally upbeat score. Not with sunny-time super-producer Scott Rudin apparently hunting down a Crash Oscar of his own. Because that Freedomland, this Freedomland, it refuses to call any white characters racist. It refuses to let the racist white cops be racist. It’s particularly mortifying and embarrassing because it’s all post-production neutering. It’s obviously shot Super 35 too, so they even cropped it to this nonsense.

Though someone tried hard to give Jackson as much slack as the frame would allow. Moore’s performance is an unsalvageable train wreck. Roth can’t direct actors, but Freedomland’s cast doesn’t need for direction. They need for some kind of honesty, which just isn’t present in the filmmaking. They need verisimilitude and Roth doesn’t want to acknowledge it. It’s about a black cop (Jackson) suspecting a white woman (Moore), who works exclusively with black people in the projects–specifically black children–is lying about a black guy kidnapping her son. The point of Freedomland is it can’t be more about race if it tried. And Roth and Rudin reduce the film to a ball-less Hallmark movie. It’s unclear how responsible Price is for it, because some of the responsibility is definitely on him. The post-production can be responsible for the atrocious, offensive editing of a riot scene, but the film gets to that riot scene because of Price’s script, because of how he handles the characters. Freedomland is half-assed filmmaking from people who know better. Even Roth should know better. It’s why he shoots it Super 35, so he doesn’t have to commit to anything while actually directing the actors.

Jackson tries. It’s a good part. It’s a poorly written part in what’s a disastrous film, but it’s a good part. And he does try hard. He does fall into a lot of his acting tropes and he never manages any chemistry with Moore, but it’s an admirable performance.

Edie Falco’s great. It’s embarrassing watching Moore opposite Falco. Her part’s terrible, even just going off the script, but she’s great. While Roth’s direction screws up a lot of the part, Price’s script isn’t there for the character.

Good support from William Forsythe. Moore-levels of train wreck from Ron Eldard as her racist cop brother. He and Moore don’t really have any scenes together, which is good because some kind of singularity would occur if they actually had to act at each other under Roth’s incompetent direction. Aunjanue Ellis’s fine. Lots to do in a lame part. She does what she can. Same goes for Clarke Peters and Anthony Mackie.

LaTonya Richardson Jackson stands out; she gets actual chemistry off Jackson, which no one else in the film gets. It’s hard not to assume its because they’re married off screen.

Freedomland is hard to watch and not for any of the reasons it should be hard to watch. It’s opportunistic, insincere and overproduced. If it were well-acted, well-directed, well-anything, it might be interesting as a failure. Instead, it’s even worth a footnote. Except as one of Jackson’s stronger performances. And as one of Moore’s worst.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Roth; screenplay by Richard Price, based on his novel; director of photography, Anastas N. Michos; edited by Nick Moore; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Scott Rudin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Council), Julianne Moore (Brenda), Edie Falco (Karen), William Forsythe (Boyle), Ron Eldard (Danny Martin), Aunjanue Ellis (Felicia), Clarke Peters (Reverend Longway), Anthony Mackie (Billy), Domenick Lombardozzi (Sullivan), Fly Williams III (Rafik), Dorian Missick (Jason) and Peter Friedman (Lt. Gold).


RELATED

Ant-Man (2015, Peyton Reed)

Ant-Man is almost a lot of things. It’s almost a kids’ movie, but not quite–there’s a maturity to the material without it getting overly complex. It’s almost a heist planning movie, but director Reed can’t quite bring all the elements together. He does get them into the right place–the crew hanging out in a particular location and the crew being mismatched–but then he doesn’t spend any time with them.

Frankly, it makes Michael Douglas seem like he doesn’t want to spend the time with the other actors, which is unfortunate. There’s a lot of chemistry to the film, though it’s sometimes not where it should be. For example, even though Evangeline Lilly is fine in a thankless role (as Douglas’s daughter and star Paul Rudd’s love interest), she doesn’t have any romantic chemistry with Rudd. She works off his humor well, but she doesn’t connect quite right. Maybe because Rudd’s actually out of place with Douglas and Lilly; he’s far more comfortable awkwardly interacting with his kid (Abby Ryder Fortson), his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and the ex’s new boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale).

Rudd does fine with the rest, but it’s mostly just humor. His performance is downright sincere with the family stuff. With Douglas and Lilly? Reed uses Rudd for comic relief. It’s kind of weird, especially since Reed doesn’t set up those scenes for comic relief. It’s partially a script problem–Douglas’s character is too thin–but it’s also Reed’s inability to find a tone for the film.

And Ant-Man is a great looking film. Great photography from Russell Carpenter, great editing from Dan Lebental and Colby Parker Jr. There’s lots of amazing, unimaginable action–it’s about a guy who shrinks down to the size of an ant, after all. I don’t think anyone’s done miniaturization with excellent CG before.

Corey Stoll’s excellent as the villain, even though his character is thin too. There’s a lot of comic relief with Michael Peña as Rudd’s partner-in-crime. It’s silly and way too forced (hence Ant-Man almost being a kids’ movie–the humor is broad), but it doesn’t get in the way. Until the end, at least, when Ant-Man sacrifices its humanity to tie into the Marvel movie universe.

It’s also nice to see Wood Harris, even if he isn’t getting anything to do. He’s in good company. Ant-Man isn’t even Rudd’s show. It’s the special effects and the heartwarming message. It succeeds on both those counts, well enough to get a pass for its missteps.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peyton Reed; screenplay by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, based on a story by Wright and Cornish and the comic book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Russell Carpenter; edited by Dan Lebental and Colby Parker Jr.; music by Christophe Beck; production designers, Shepherd Frankel and Marcus Rowland; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Paul Rudd (Scott Lang / Ant-Man), Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne), Abby Ryder Fortson (Cassie Lang), Judy Greer (Maggie Lang), Corey Stoll (Darren Cross / Yellowjacket), Bobby Cannavale (Paxton), Michael Peña (Luis), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), T.I. (Dave), Wood Harris (Gale) and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon).


RELATED

Real Steel (2011, Shawn Levy)

While the most impressive thing about Real Steel is easily the CG robot boxers, one has to wonder why Shawn Levy didn’t also use computer graphics to make James Rebhorn look more lifelike. Rebhorn, who I was initially happy to see in the opening titles, appears to be wearing a pound of makeup.

Steel has a solid supporting cast—besides Rebhorn, Hope Davis shows up for a small, thankless role and is good. In a tiny (though fourth billed) part, Anthony Mackie is good. Kevin Durand is great as a vile bully.

And there’s a good movie somewhere in Real Steel. A has-been boxer takes up promoting robot ones, finds out he’s got a kid, he and the kid bond, human concern is abound. And occasionally Levy—ably assisted by cinematographer Mauro Fiore—creates a good scene. But they’re far and few and they never feature Hugh Jackman (as the has-been boxer) and Dakota Goyo (as the kid). In those good moments, usually well-composed shots of Jackman by himself, it’s like a terrible future version of a good Paul Newman seventies movie.

Jackman’s okay. The film’s dialogue is horrendous, so there’s not much he could do. Goyo’s weak, but not terrible. Evangeline Lilly is useless as Jackman’s love interest.

Danny Elfman’s score is bad. He proves incapable of aping the Rocky music, which seems pretty simple.

Levy’s composition is fine, he’s just insipid.

Real Steel is real stupid; it wouldn’t have taken much to make it smart.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Shawn Levy; screenplay by John Gatins, based on a story by Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven and a short story by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Mauro Fiore; edited by Dean Zimmerman; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Tom Meyer; produced by Don Murphy, Susan Montford and Levy; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Charlie Kenton), Dakota Goyo (Max Kenton), Evangeline Lilly (Bailey Tallet), Anthony Mackie (Finn), Kevin Durand (Ricky), Hope Davis (Aunt Debra), James Rebhorn (Uncle Marvin), Karl Yune (Tak Mashido), Olga Fonda (Farra Lemkova) and John Gatins (Kingpin).


RELATED