Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I could immediately relate to Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) because he saw the good in people above all else. His idealism was challenged when he was appointed by Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), a friend of his father’s, to fill a recent vacancy in the United States Senate. Smith looked up to Paine but was not aware of the fact that Paine was controlled by a powerful media figure named Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold). Despite the rotting corruption in Congress, it seemed as though nothing could destroy Smith’s loyalty to his country and ideals. I was so happy to have seen this film on the 4th of July because it had a truly touching scene about what it meant to have freedom. I’m referring to the scene when Smith talked to his cynical secretary (Jean Arthur) about the concept of liberty being buried in books and people taking it for granted and not realizing how lucky they are to have it. I have to admit I teared up a bit because it described how I was in high school. Despite our class talking about important U.S. historical figures and how the government worked, I found it really difficult to connect with the material because it all felt too impersonal. Watching Smith running around the capital while completely enthralled with all the monuments and the history of the place, it inspired me to always look the world from a fresh perspective. Stewart and Arthur made a killer duo because despite the two being completely different in how they saw politics, they found a commonality and worked from there to establish a very strong bond. I was touched with the way Arthur eventually revealed her softer, sensitive side without losing what made me adore her character in the first place: her sharp wit, dry sense of humor and sarcasm. Some viewers say that the picture might be a bit too romantic but that’s exactly what I loved about it. While it did acknowledge that there was an ever-growing darkness in the world and sometimes the good guys might not necessarily win, the movie’s main purpose was to instill hope. I don’t think the movie would have worked as well as it did if the lead character didn’t completely wear his heart on his sleeve. I was also impressed with the way it framed corruption by means of a politician’s silence which culminated toward the end of the film. Based on the screenplay by Sidney Buchman and directed by Frank Capra, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was astute, touching and, most importantly, still relevant today. It went beyond liberalism and conservatism. Its main focus was what it meant to be a true American.
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on John Carlin’s book and directed by Clint Eastwood, “Invictus” was about Nelson Mandela’s (Morgan Freeman) role in uniting South Africa despite the nation’s history of great injustice and racism. I was surprised with this movie because I thought it would be more about Mandela’s role in trying to unite the South African people by showing us the more obvious politics and bureaucracies instead of focusing on the rugby team (led by François Pienaar played by Matt Damon). While the picture made it obvious that Mandela’s intention was to unite South Africa through sports, the movie did not completely feel like Mandela’s story. While the film had very exciting scenes of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, at the same time I wanted to know more about Mandela such as why he was sent to jail, his key experiences there, and the political moves he made during his first term as president. Because I’m sure he did a lot more than what the film portrayed. Nevertheless, I thought “Invictus” had some great moments such as when Mandela explained to a particular group why they had to keep the status quo in terms of the rugby team’s flag and anthem. Freeman, as usual, rose to the occassion and I believed him as a man who, despite having been through jail for being an anti-apartheid activist, was ready to forgive, move on, and promote a multicultural society. I also very much enjoyed the scene when Freeman and Damon had their first one-on-one meeting. There was a certain understated elegance in that scene alone; I thought it was interesting how Damon’s character started off as somewhat reluctant to connect and by the end of the meeting, although he was shaken, he began to trust and respect Mandela. There were also scenes that interested me such as the picture hinting at Mandela’s strained relationship with his wife and children. I believe “Invictus” is not Eastwood’s best work because it shifted its focus from the big picture far too often than I would have liked. For a movie that was over two hours, I didn’t feel like I knew Mandela well enough because he was always on the rugby field shaking hands with the players instead of shaking hands with politicians. What kept this movie afloat were the performances from Damon and Freeman as well as the intense rugby games even though such were more like distractions from Mandela’s accomplishments. I read a review stating that the film needed to decide whether to it wanted to be a sports film or a character-driven film so he could invest his interest in either one. I felt exactly the same way.
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
When I was younger still living in the Philippines, I had this idea that America was a great place where everyone was happy because everyone had an equal chance to get what they wanted in life. But now that I’m a little older and living in America, I’m beginning to see this country for what it really is: a machine designed to make the rich even richer and the poor even poorer. When I talk to my friends who came from different countries in Europe about how different things are in America, especially about healthcare and education, I can’t help but feel like America is a second-rate nation and that progress (if there is any) is too slow. “Capitalism: A Love Story,” written and directed by Michael Moore, tackled the topic of capitalism and the many components that drives it forward. I’m not going to mention all the points he brought up even though they are indeed very interesting ones, but there were three things from the film that struck me: teenagers being sent to private juvenile facilities for extended amounts time (without any sort of hearing involving extension changes) because they committed so-called crimes that I think were mere inconveniences or just a part of youth, companies buying insurance policies for their workers (without the workers knowing about it) so the companies can get money in the event of their workers’ death, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s touching speech at the end of the documentary which summarized what America should be. What I didn’t like about the film, however, was that sometimes Moore was too enthusiastic about getting his point across to the point where he got too cheesy in terms of using certain movies or television shows. It was all very dramatic but I did not find those elements convincing. In fact, I found them a bit distracting. I thought his strongest points came about when he actually interviewed members of the Congress (with real footages from Congress and the frustrations of various politicians about the current state of the country) and people who are taking a stand for the things they more than deserved (such as payment for the time they put in at their jobs). If those dramatic–sometimes cartoonish–footages were taken out, I think this film would have been more focused than the riveting and insightful “Sicko” (probably my favorite film by Moore to date). I found a lot of reviews discrediting this film for the fact that Moore directed it and everyone assuming that he’s just going to target Republicans. Well, he also showcased Democrats making deals and promises that are, from my perspective, not only dishonest and unethical but ultimately immoral. I say “immoral” because they’re making decisions for the American people and not just for their own private lives. “Capitalism: A Love Story” is an incisive and honest look about some of the (biggest) injustices in America. One may or may not agree with that statement but one cannot deny the current unhappiness of the American people. And what’s sad is that the unhappiness is only growing.
Transporter 2 (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
This is the case in which the sequel is better than the original. Even though its predecessor had more story, this one is more focused because all it wanted to do was entertain by showing its audiences one action sequence after another. Jason Statham is back as the mercenary Frank Martin but this time around, instead of transporting drugs or women, his job is to take a kid named Jack (played with spunkiness by Hunter Clary) back from school every day. Since he is a son of an important politician (Matthew Modine), he is targeted by Alessandro Gassman whose intentions are revealed later in the film. One of the things I liked about the picture is that it started off with a kidnapping but it eventually became something more sinister. I didn’t see it coming so I thought that was well done. I also liked the references to the first film (this time with paint instead of oil) and how it provided a scene similar to the ridiculousness of the first (the stunts using a fire hose). But the best scenes include model-turned-actress Kate Nauta and her duels with Statham. I wish they had more hand-to-hand combat; I didn’t like that Louis Leterrier, the director, avoided something that could be great. Yes, violence against women is a horrible thing in normal circumstances but if one assassin faces another assassin gender should not be an issue. Ultimately, I thought this film was extremely fast-paced. It didn’t feel like I watched a ninety-minute movie. Even though it might have been a little too cartoonish, I think it worked because its intention was not to tell an insightful story but an entertaining one. It more than succeeds on that level.