I'm not sure there are two movies more different than the fairy tale Penelope and the powerfully violent Blood Diamond. Penelope is a fable of sorts that tells the story of Penelope (Christina Ricci), a young woman from a blue-blood family with a curse: The first female baby born in the family will have pig nose and ears. The curse can be broken if she can get "one of her own" to marry her. Penelope's family hides her away to keep their secret, even faking her death. When she's 18, her mother (Catherine O'Hara) starts interviewing young blue-blood men to see if they'll marry her. This goes on for years, with all of them running away when they finally get to see her. One of them, Edward, is particularly scared when he sees her and puts a story in the newspaper about the monster living there. A reporter, Peter Dinklage, who was injured by Penelope's mother when she was leaving the hospital and he was getting a picture, partners with Edward and they hire Max (James McAvoy) to go in for an marriage interview and get her picture. Max has a heart and he starts talking to Penelope and they hit it off. Since it's a fairy tale, you can image how the rest plays out, except that you really can't. It's an original story about beauty being inside, and a reversal of the Beauty and the Beast idea (the woman is the beast in this case). It's beautifully shot, colorful, imaginative, and the supporting characters are terrific. Catherine O'Hara as the over-the-top mother with a heart of gold, and Reese Witherspoon as Penelope's crazy friend once she reaches the outside world. 4 LAMBS/stars
The second movie I saw this weekend was Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly. The acting is terrific, the story well articulated (which I found remarkable considering understanding conflict in Africa is rarely simple), and the violence overwhelming. If you're willing to watch the film by fast-forwarding the shooting scenes, I'd give the movie a 4.5, if I'd had to sit through this in the movie theater or with someone who won't let me fast forward, I'd give it a 3 for excessive violence. So here's my description of the 4.5 version. Hounsou plays Solomon Vendy, a fisherman from a small village in Sierra Leone in 1999 during their civil war. As he's walking his son to school one day, the R.U.F. (Revolutionary United Front) attacks his village and his family is divided. He is sent to work in one of the diamond mines in Kono where he finds an enormous pink diamond. He manages to hide it before the rebels find it. Meanwhile, Danny Archer (DiCaprio), a Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) soldier from the wars in Angola turned diamond smuggler has managed to get caught smuggling diamonds into Liberia (here's what I learned from the film: to avoid exporting diamonds from known conflict zones, like Sierra Leone in 1999, the diamonds would be smuggled into another country and then exported as clean diamonds to be sold around the world, 60% to the US. Because they are smuggled, the diamonds are dirt cheap and to gain money for fighting the war, both sides sell the diamonds. However, to keep the global price high, the diamond companies hoard the diamonds. The diamond companies even have an interest in keeping the conflict going because it keeps the price of diamonds low. I can't vouch for the validity of any of this, but that's what the movie seemed to be saying). Anyway, Hounsou and DiCaprio eventually meet in jail and DiCaprio convinces him to let him sell the pink diamond. They start to head back to Kono to get the diamond, and meet up with Connelly, a journalist trying to prove the conflict diamonds are being purchased by the diamond companies. They try to reach Kono and run up against government military troops, supplemented by the same Rhodesian/Angolan military DiCaprio used to belong to, as well as the R.U.F, AND local militia who are trying to protect their homes from both sides. Watching this movie you start to feel like everyone's in the wrong, that all the people are evil and just trying to make money. The leader of the R.U.F. has a terrific line that makes the movie seem a little more real, "If I am a devil it is because I live in hell." There's another conversation between Hounsou and DiCaprio where Hounsou is trying to explain how it feels to be living amidst a civil war where most of the people are not on one side OR the other, but living on the battlefield. The R.U.F. would steal young boys and force them to be soldiers. They're brainwashed into believing they are right, and given guns, drugs, money, and gifts to keep the cycle going. I've lived in Kenya and Gabon (neither in any conflict while I was there) but it's still nearly impossible to understand all the atrocities, war, violence, and bloodshed that goes on during these internal conflicts. This was a terrific movie to see how it can work from a single family's point of view, just fast-forward through the gunshots.
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