The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Big House

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Shawshank Redemption is a movie which is hypnotising in just how good it is. You know the type of film; whenever it’s on TV (which in this case it constantly is) you have to stop what you’re doing and watch it – one of those rare movies in which you don’t want to end. With the all the movies out there in which you find yourself checking how long is left of the running time, here is one in which you see there is a whole hour left and you’re glad; the mark of a truly great movie.

Carcerophobia is the fear of going to prison and is something which has crossed my mind in the past, partially brought on by movies like The Shawshank Redemption. Even if you’ve committed nothing illegal like Andy Dufresne, there is always that possibility that an honest law abiding citizen could end up in the slammer. The world of Shawshank State Penitentiary is one with little to no human rights, one with shocking but believable treatment from both the guards and fellow prisoners as they engage in brutal, sadistic acts. Regardless of what prisons around the world are like circa 2017, your “whole life (is) blown away in the blink of an eye, nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it”. The Shawshank Redemption may be one of Stephen King’s non horror works, but the prospect of going to prison for a crime you never committed gets under my skin.

One of the aspects of The Shawshank Redemption which intrigues me the most in the empire Andy builds while inside prison as well as an insight of the economics and commerce which goes on between the prisoners and guards. Just like Robert Stroud in Birdman of Alcatraz, he is still able to find meaning in his life despite being in what first looks like a hopeless situation; he is able to find hope in despair. This really does show that at the end of the day, knowledge is power. Likewise Andy sending a letter every week to the state government for prison library funding and ultimately playing with the system, always something which inspires me.

What makes Andy Dufresne such a great character? Like Tim Robbins himself, there is more than meets the eye. Robins has an intelligence to him and you can’t quite figure out what is going on behind his eyes, an actor with a mysterious aura to him and this comes through with the character of Andy. He is not like the rest of the prisoners, he’s a civilised gentleman thrown into the jungle that is prison but he’s not a sheltered fool ether and knows how to deal with his new surroundings. But why do I need to tell you this, the narration sums up his character perfectly in a beautiful and poetic manner – “I must admit I didn’t think much of Andy first time I laid eyes on him; looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over.” Likewise I also find myself very intrigued by the character of Brooks; just how does such a gentle soul end up in prison? Did he really commit a crime? Who knows?

Morgan Freeman has the ability to play wise old men without coming off as a stereotype or a cliché. His narration is describing what obviously appears in the film, so what makes it so great? Like the best film narration it’s to do with its poetic manner and the way in which it’s delivered; scenes in the film were shot to time with the pre-recorded voice over plus it goes without saying Freeman has one of the most heavenly voices ever. None of his dialogue is necessary for the advancement of the plot, yet what would the film be without it? There are just so many inspirational quotes.

The escape sequence itself so incredible yet at the same time is entirely believable and one of the most satisfying movie revenge plots. Many people always point out as to how Andy could reattach the poster to the wall when he begins his escape through the tunnel, even Frank Darabont acknowledges this on the DVD audio commentary although I am puzzled as to why this is made into a big deal. Andy could simply attach the poster to the wall at the top two corners and allow gravity to cover the remainder of the hole and simply crawl into it from below as if the poster where a curtain, likewise we never see on screen if the poster has been reattached on all four corners.

When I think of films which can convey an expansive range of powerful human emotions and feelings and act as a form of emotional therapy a few instantly come to my mind – It’s a Wonderful Life, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shawshank Redemption. Films which help one to break from the mental prisons of our life.

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The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Sweet Smell of Success

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Coen Brothers are hit and miss with me (I tend to have a preference more towards their comedy then their drama) but The Hudsucker Proxy is by far my favourite movie of theirs, a film which feels like it was tailor made for me. The Hudsucker Proxy takes place in its own unique universe; the acting style in the film is reminiscent of the 1930’s yet the film is set in the 1950’s. Likewise there appears to be a clash of fashion; the outfits are from the 30’s yet the cars or the beatnik coffee house which Norvillie visits are unmistakably 1950’s but I like this combination of two eras, two distinct time periods of Hollywood’s golden age wrapped into one. The Hudsucker Proxy is a movie with so many layers and homage’s to other movies (Sweet Smell of Success, Metropolis, The Apartment, The Producers, various Frank Capra movies); I’m sure with future viewings I will unlock even more secrets the movies holds.

The Hudsucker Proxy is a love letter to anyone who loves the aesthetic of classic Hollywood movies with set designs to die for such as Paul Newman’s office, an art deco fantasy land; yet the movie even injects some Terry Gilliam-esque cinematography with the scene in the mail room feeling like the world from 1985’s Brazil. Likewise this is a movie of drawn out colours, mostly greys in what I feel is an attempt to emulate the appearance of black & white.

What happened to Tim Robbins? He was on such a hot streak of films during the first half of the 90’s, just after this he was in The Shawshank Redemption (one of the best two film streaks ever?); since then, not so much. The character of Norvillie Barnes is a Preston Sturges hero trapped in a Frank Capra story; although due to Robbin’s resemblance to a young Orson Welles the character comes off to me as someone who has the look of Welles but has the personality of Gary Cooper; a young entrepreneurial go getter with a wide eyed innocence who is not fully in tune with reality, or at least hasn’t been subjected to it yet. When he first arrives in New York and tries looking for a job, the word “experience” is plastered all over the frame, oh the reliability.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is a revelation here; channelling Rosalind Russell, yet I can still detect elements of Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanywck and Jean Arthur in there. The coordination of her gestures is perfect and I’m also fascinated by her character dynamic in which she becomes insecure about her femininity or lack therefore off at Norville’s comments of her trying to be one of the boys. Although it’s never resolved, this still gives her character another layer of depth. Paul Newman on the other hand rarely ventured into comedy but he pulls of the cigar chomping, “you’re fired!” type boss with ease.

The film’s combination of numerous elements from various genres is also carried over in its humour, from dry jokes to more overt, fast talking screwball antics. The gag with the circle drawn on the piece of paper followed by the uttering of “you know, for kids!” never gets old, even if the movie’s poster somewhat spoils the joke. While the sequence detailing the creation and distribution of the Hula Hoop, I don’t think I could you ask for a better fast paced quirky montage. Likewise the (almost literal) Deus Ex Machina ending could have easily come off as a copout but I feel is rescued from being so from the plot element of the blue letter; I completely forgot that even existed until the angel of Warren Hudsucker reminds a suicidal Norville about it; now that’s a sign of an engaging film.

Rocky V (1990)

Back To Where It All Began

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Few motion pictures seem to inspire as much intense dislike as Rocky V, even to the point of Sylvester Stallone himself giving the film a score of “O” on a British talk show – yes, 0/10. Come on man, can you really say Rocky V has absolutely no merit what so ever? Even the sitcom The Vicar of Dibly bashes Rocky V in its pilot episode; “Four’s not bad is it? There were four gospels, four horsemen of the Apocalypse, four Rocky movies until they made Rocky V, very bad movie”. As a huge fan of the Rocky movies I’ll just come out and say it, I love Rocky V. Oh yeah, deal with it! Part V was designed the return the series back to its roots, not only by bringing Rocky back to his humble beginning on the streets of Philadelphia, but also by being directed by John G. Avildsen, the director the first Rocky. In my eyes, the film succeeds.

Continuing the series tradition of recapping the fight from the previous film, Rocky V presents a recap of the Rocky- Drago fight scored with the traditional Rocky music by Bill Conti rather than the Vince DiCola score from Rocky IV, which is a nice touch. The opening title with the faces of Rocky and Drago in the lettering is also my favourite opening title in the series.

The one big grip I do have with Rocky V is how it messes up the Rocky continuity. Just to give a brief recap of Rocky continuity from Rocky III onwards: it isn’t made clear the date of which Rocky III ends, but we are told the date of Mickey’s death as taking place in 1981, so we can assume Rocky’s second fight with Clubber Lang took place in 1981/82. Rocky IV picks up where III left off, but no dates are mentioned in the movie nor is made clear on the passing of time. It seems most likely the events of Rocky IV take place somewhere from 1982 to 1985, the year in which the movie was released. Rocky V picks up where Rocky IV left off, and once Rocky returns to America from Russia and gets off the plane, he is greeted by his teenage son; however at the end of Rocky IV he was still a child. There should have been a passing of time and then introduce the teenage son. But on top of this, considering the early 90’s aesthetic of Rocky V, due in part of its soundtrack, it seems like Rocky really did travel through time when flying that plane from the 80’s world of Rocky IV. Perhaps some crazy fan theory explanation could solve the mystery such as Rocky staying in Russia for several years after his fight with Drago. While this plot hole does bother me a bit, does it really interfere with my enjoyment of the overall movie? No, not really.

Once Rocky travels through time and is back in America, the family go home to a different mansion than that seen in Rocky III and IV, but I can accept perhaps they owned more than one. Regardless, due to an issue involving taxes, the Balboa family lose their fortune and are forced to return to return to Paulie’s old place in Philadelphia. What was the tax issue? To quote IMDB’s FAQ section for Rocky V:

When Rocky was in Russia during Rocky IV, Paulie gave the power of attorney to Rocky’s accountant, because the accountant told Paulie he needed to authorize a tax extension. Given free access to Rocky’s accounts, the accountant used Rocky’s savings to finance a real estate investment, planning on having the money back in the account by the time Rocky retuned from Russia. However, the real estate deal went bad and the money was never returned. Additionally, Rocky discovers that he has debt payments, mortgage payments ($400,000) and that the accountant hasn’t filed any of Rocky’s tax returns for over 6 years.

Ok, I’m not an expert on taxes, but the movie makes it sound convincing, so I’ll buy it.

Rocky’s return to his old stomping ground gives the film a welcome nostalgia factor, from Rocky wearing his clothes from the first movie to Adrian being dowdy once again and working in the pet shop; to the return of locations from the first movie such as the Atomic Hoagie Shop. At one point in the film they even repeat the very first shot of the original Rocky. Also the streets of Philly appear to be more graffiti and trash laden than they had been in 1975/76. Rocky V also features Burgess Meredith’s final appearance as Mickey (even if he does look older than his last appearance in Rocky III), in a newly filmed flashback scene in which he gives one of the most powerful monologues in the series. This is ranks as one of my favourite scenes of the entire franchise, and I fail to see how anyone could deny its emotional impact.

Due to Rocky’s newly discovered brain damage, he can’t return to the boxing ring, and instead trains a new upcoming boxer Tommy Gunn (portrayed by real life boxer Tommy Morrison); a predecessor to the plot of 2015’s Creed. Tommy Gunn is nowhere near as iconic or memorable as Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago, but I still enjoy his character and find him more interesting than Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon in Rocky Balboa. He’s an enthusiastic go getter who eventually turns on his mentor and becomes seduced by the dark side of the boxing business. So yeah, it’s a better version of Star Wars Episode III with Rocky as Obi-Wan, Tommy as Anakin and the boxing promoter George Washington Duke as Palatine. George Washington Duke is the main villain of the movie; a Don King like boxing promoter. I love this guy; he’s such a stereotypical loud mouthed salesman, continuing the tradition of over the top Rocky Villains.

However the real heart of Rocky V lies with its father-son story with its themes of neglect and abandonment  between Rocky and his son Robert, played by Stallone’s real life son, Sage Stallone; making the interactions between them feel more real and genuine. Not to mention the character of Robert has a frightening predicament of going from a sheltered life to living in a tough neighbourhood. It’s weird to think that both Sage Stallone and Tommy Morrison are now both dead; two young stars from a movie which is only 26 years old. Stallone already hates Rocky V as it is, but having the movie star his deceased son I’d imagine makes the movie even more unwatchable for him. In regards to the sub plot involving Robert and the school bullies, I actually find this aspect of the story to be interesting itself. I feel it showcases how in order to make peace with the bullies he had to fight them back and win the battle, and that Adrian’s suggestion that she who would rather he solve his problems verbally would be a futile gesture. After he fights the bullies he then immediately makes peace with one of them and they become friends. Could this be a war parable, or am I just over-analysing?

Despite V being the black sheep of the franchise, Rocky V still ends on fight, not in the ring but on the street. Having Rocky take part in a barbaric street fight makes for great entertainment, due in part to the fun of seeing Rocky engage in a fight in which there are no rules. I also love all the over the top crowd reactions (“Come on dad, he took my room!”, “You’re losing everything!”). The film’s final pay off is immensely satisfying in which Rocky punches George Washington Duke right into the air and onto a car; what comeuppance!

Rocky V reintroduces Bill Conti’s music after being absent from Rocky IV. However the soundtrack of Rocky V is mainly comprised of hip-hop and RnB. I’m not a fan of hip hop, but I do like the songs included in the film. With Go For It I get the impression they were trying to create a new Eye of the Tiger; a song which is named after a phrase which is repeated throughout the film which is central to the plot. It could never be as iconic as Eye of the Tiger, but it still gets me jamming. I also love the new version of Take You Back which gives the song an early 90’s spin. All the films in the series reflect the periods in which they were made, and for Rocky V it’s the early 90’s.

I’ve heard reviewers complain Rocky V is a depressing ending to the series. It becomes clear at the end of the film that Rocky learns he doesn’t need wealth to be happy providing he’s still got his family and his health; and eventually he chooses his family over his career, pride and ego. This is a theme which ties in with the end credits song The Measure of a Man sung by Elton John:

“You’ve come full circle, now you’re home, without the gold, without the chrome. And this is where you’ve always been, you had to lose so you could win. And rise above your troubles while you can.”

I did not find Rocky V in any way to undermine to optimistic nature of the series. Initially it was scripted for Rocky to die at the end, and there is even a deleted scene which shows the character of Marie from the first movie continued to hang out with the wrong crowd. These elements would make an interesting alternative version, but for my Rocky canon I prefer the direction they took. Plus the reintroduction of Marie in Rocky Balboa was a better path for the character, more in tune with the series’ optimistic nature.

The end credits of Rocky V give a retrospective of the entire series which couldn’t be more perfect, plus I love the song The Measure of a Man. I don’t often talk about how great the end credits of a film are, yet with all the Rocky sequels I watch the credits in their entirety. Rocky V is the black sheep of the series in terms of plot structure. We already have four movies which end with Rocky fighting an opponent in the ring, it would have been tiresome to do that a fifth time. Instead Stallone wrote a sequel which took a chance. So yes, I love Rocky V. Got a problem with that, then my ring’s outside!

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Oh England, My Lionheart

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

No Robin Hood movie can dream of even coming close to the perfection that is 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, but Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ranks as my 2nd favourite movie about the famed English outlaw. If the 1938 Robin Hood is one extreme of a bright, colourful, tight wearing, saccharine induced fantasy and the Ridley Scott Robin Hood is the opposite extreme of an unnecessarily dark, gritty and overly mature version of the tale, then Prince of Thieves is the middle ground.

Is the all American Kevin Costner miscast as Robin Hood? Yes. But do I care? No, not really. Costner’s enthusiasm does come through in his performance and shows he has what it takes to be an action hero. Most people won’t think of Costner as a screen presence, but to me he is. Likewise, realism is besides the point with a movie like this.

The movie opens unexpectedly in Jerusalem showing that this is a Robin Hood movie which does thing a bit different, largely with the character of Azeem (Morgan Freeman), a black man in medieval England. Azeem represents positive representation of an Arab as well as the Arab world. He holds more progressive views on women and in one of the movie’s pivotal scenes in which he hands Robin a rudimentary telescope (very similar to a paralleling scene in Dances with Wolves) which isn’t recorded to have been invented until the 17th century. However the notion that an individual or individuals from the Arab world might have known about such technology isn’t a too “out there” idea due to the Middle East being far more advanced society during the middle ages. I assume it’s unlikely we’ll see a character like Azeem in the post 911 world in which the Middle East is no longer portrayed in media as an exotic fantasy land rather than a haven for terrorists. Costner and Morgan Freeman make for a fun duo; who wouldn’t want to have Morgan Freeman always by your side giving you winsomely knowledge? After all what other actor embodies dignity more than Freeman? Yes there is a big gaping plot hole when Azeem saves Robin’s life as soon as they arrive in England. But do I care? No, not really.

The film’s message of equality between race and gender isn’t shoved down your throat and doesn’t come off as overt political correctness. Likewise Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s (try saying that name three times) Lady Marian is a woman in medieval England who has a sense of self and is not subservient to anyone; not historically accurate but progressive. Plus I do love a girl in armour.

However it’s Alan Rickman who steals the show as the twitchy, scenery chewing mad man that is the Sherriff of Nottingham. His performance is full of little things which feel like they were improvised and his many outbursts are music to my ears. Is it just me or do classically trained actors often make the most memorable villains? Sean Connery’s appearance on the other hand is one of the better uses of a celebrity cameo in a film. Just like how the characters are surprised to see Richard the Lionheart we as the audience are surprised to see Sean Connery; plus he’s perfect in these kinds of roles.

How can that score by Michael Kamen not evoke the adventurer in you? The music is so good that it appears Disney have been using it on their own logo. Likewise I guess I’m also the only person in the world who isn’t sick to death of Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You; I still jam to it now and then. Ah the days when the pop song tie in was as big, if not bigger than the movie itself.

Prince of Thieves is good old fashioned swashbuckling action. The action on display has a sense of weight and physicality with the impressive large scale action sequences with even the out there moment with Robin and Azeem being fired over a wall with a catapult still feeling believable, and not a computer generated effect in sight; all practical glory.

The movie does the English landscape justice; even in the drab winter weather there is still a beauty to it. Prince of Thieves features some breathtaking money shots, such as that of Robin firing an arrow with an explosion behind him filmed at 300 frames per second; or perhaps my favourite shot in the film, the romantic elevator with the sun in the background splitting the trees. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is film with its faults but I’m so engaged with the world and its aesthetic that I can look past them, a world in which everything feels used and lived in, one beaming with personality.

Dances with Wolves (1990)

Writes With a Keyboard

It’s more than apparent that Kevin Costner has such love and reverence for the western, continuing the long tradition of epic Hollywood film making with Dances with Wolves. In this revisionist western the Indians are the good guys and white men are the villains with Costner playing a character that likely would have been played by Gary Cooper 40 years earlier. The white man is shown killing mass amounts of Buffalo only for their horns, throwing their trash on the ground and polluting the water. The Native American mentality conflicts with the white man’s use of resources much like America’s carbon footprint today. I can’t say if Dances with Wolves is a movie intended to carry an environmental message but that is an impression I get from it. John Dunbar’s desire to see the western frontier before is disappears is comparable to the Arctic and Antarctica being the last great frontiers today which are apparently on risk of eventually disappearing. John Dunbar doesn’t want to take advantage of the land but to admire and bask in it.

I find it refreshing to see westerns which include the Indian point of view. The insight in Dances with Wolves into the Sioux culture and lifestyle as well as hearing a not often heard language is fascinating. The Indians in Dances with Wolves are humanised with moments such as when Dunbar sees Kicking Bird having sex in the tipi, a relatable awkward moment or with the Indian children of the tribe having the desire to be grown up and act older than they are. The Indians however are not saintified ether; some members of the tribe are vicious killers and display prejudice against the white man. The movie presents both douches and more noble individuals on both sides. The passage of time in which Dunbar very slowly over the course of a four hour movie becomes assimilated into this culture and learns the language represents an astounding piece of storytelling. Unfortunately social justice warriors will look upon a movie like Dances with Wolves and decry it as offensive for its display of so called “cultural appropriation” because apparently the embracing of other cultures doesn’t represent unity between races but thievery of one culture’s ways by another.

Although not many people share the fondness I have for Kevin Costner dismissing him as a dull, monotone actor. I point to Dances with Wolves as a showcase that the man is a great screen presence; a four hour long movie which he carries on his shoulders with no dialogue for long spaces of time while at other times he is exuberating his commanding narration voice. The scene in which Dunbar is being held by US soldiers as they assault him, denying him to return to his new found way of life as well as killing Two Socks and using his diary as toilet paper is so painful to watch. I’ve become so attached to the character at this point that I can’t bear to watch everything he has worked towards being destroyed.

Who needs CGI when there’s a world of scenic and natural beauty out there to capture on film? Simply look as the majestic landscapes of the badlands accompanied by John Barry’s score evokes a real sense of wonder. “Why go out to a location when you can just create it on a computer. Isn’t that so much easier?” Sigh. Likewise the famous buffalo hunt scene is the real deal. How do you recreate a buffalo hunt? Why get huge herds of buffalo of course. Like the chariot race in Ben-Hur, history is brought back to life with buffalo as far as the eye can see with stuntmen on horseback right in the middle of it all; pulling off something as huge as this and retaining continuity is astounding.

Dances with Wolves doesn’t come off as cold, callous Oscar bait but sadly it is another movie in which its Best Picture win has hurt its reputation; “Dances with Wolves is just that movie which beat Goodfellas”.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

The Farce Awakens

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a movie I’m apprehensive to review; perhaps more than any other film ever. I only review movies if I feel I have something to interesting and unique to say. What unique view point to do I have to give to the Star Wars prequels? –  possibly the three most heavily critiqued films ever. I decided to watch all three prequels again (and hopefully for the last time) in order to get a fresh perspective on them. I believe I may have some unique points of view to offer; plus I am among the populace who is addicted to discussing every aspect of George Lucas’ pop culture behemoth.

Don’t be too surprised when I tell you I hate the prequels – big shocker right? However The Phantom Menace is the prequel I dislike the least. The major aspect I find The Phantom Menace does has going for it over the other two prequels are the aesthetics. It comes the closet to resembling the original trilogy, if still incredibly far off. The Phantom Menace was shot on film and does feature on location filming and even some practical effects here and there, so the whole thing doesn’t come of looking like a video game as Episodes II and III did. There is a lot of eye candy to behold, such as the locations such as the Palace of Caserta in Italy (why do you want to film everything on a green screen when beautiful places like this exist in the world?), while the costume design – not something I would normally comment on – is very pleasing to the eyes. The only two scenes in The Phantom Menace which has a little bit of that excitement that I get watching the original trilogy are the pod race and final lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul; an impressive display of acrobatics and is it’s not choreographed within an inch of its life like the duels in Episodes II and III. But even these few aspects of the film I do enjoy are ultimately superficial as there is no internal conflict nor am I emotional invested.

What surprised me watching The Phantom Menace for the first time in a decade was just how incredibly frustrated I got. I’ve seen and read more reviews of this film over the years, analysing it to death and mocking every aspect of it. Watching the film again I expected to have reactions of “yeah it sucks, what else is new”, but sitting down and watching the entire thing my brain became so numb from the never ending monotone exposition. I’m not even that keen on the John Williams score; it’s not bad by any means – far from it – but it feels too dark and moody for a Star Wars movie. As fine a piece of music as Duel of the Fates is, those booming choirs feel out of place for Star Wars. In regards to the most hated fictional character of all time, I don’t think Jar Jar is the absolute worst thing ever, I can at least tolerate him (if there’s any character in the prequel trilogy that bothers me for how ridiculous they are: its General Grievous). Plus at least he’s responsible for the only line from this film I like; “The ability to talk does not you intelligent”.

All three prequels lack the space western elements of the original trilogy, and I recall a comment that George Lucas intended The Phantom Menace to play out like a costume drama. Perhaps it’s own such a direction could have worked if you know, the execution wasn’t total pants. I can see what Lucas was perhaps going for in the story in trying to portray the fall of a democracy; the idea of radicals using political unrest as a means of coming to power – such as the Nazis using the turmoil caused by the great depression to amass power. Perhaps the empire isn’t such a bad thing, it appears under their command the universe became a more interesting place.

As someone who is interested in the relationship people have with popular culture, I find the most interesting aspect of The Phantom Menace is nothing in the film itself but rather its place in history. Think about it, the most anticipated movie of all time and it was a colossal let down, and this occurring during the early days of the internet. What would the world of geekdom be like if The Phantom Menace actually lived up to expectations? Would an entire generation be less cynical?  Would internet culture be the same as it is today, possibly for the better?

The Rocketeer (1991)

Blast from the Past!

As a fan of classic Hollywood cinema, how can I not love The Rocketeer? I delight in all those old Hollywood references, from lines such as “You stood behind Myrna Loy with a bowl of grapes”, to a movie set very similar to the castle interior from The Adventures of Robin Hood. I even find myself thinking this film’s protagonist has pretty sweet life going for him; he gets to fly planes all day, has a hot aspiring actress girlfriend and lives in 1930’s Hollywood.  The cast of The Rocketeer have that cartoony look which stars of the 1930’s possessed; even one of the film’s villains is modelled after Rondo Hatton, a not well known b-movie player with a uniquely disfigured face. The film also provides a nostalgic look at the golden age of aviation; ah for the days when aviation was a gentleman’s pursuit, back before every Joe Sweatsock could wedge himself behind a lunch try and jet off to Raleigh-Durham.

Why do these pulp serial adventures keep failing at the box office (The Shadow, The Phantom, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). Of course The Rocketeer’s lack of box office success cancelled plans for an intended trilogy. Are audiences just not interested in these kinds of films, or do they just keep getting poorly marketed. Either way, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Timothy Dalton is the one of who steals the show as the Errol Flynn-esque Neville Sinclair. Dalton really is one of the last of his kind, as a Shakespearean trained actor who can play these types debonair, hammy villains, both here and his role in Hot Fuzz. Interestingly Errol Flynn himself has had (hopefully untrue) posthumous accusations of being Nazi sympathiser. What’s scarier than Nazis? The Rocketeer has the answer: Rocket propelled Nazis who can travel across the Atlantic on their jet packs.

My only complaint with The Rocketeer and the only aspect which prevents me from awarding the movie with the mighty 10, is the lead protagonist Cliff Secord played by Billy Campbell, whom I find not to be terribly interesting. While it could be argued he’s supposed to be dull in keeping with the tradition of B-movie serials having bland leading men. Still I would rather have a more charismatic screen presence but when a movie still manages to be this much fun despite this nor do I ever care in the slightest as why the rocket blasts to not burn of the back of Cliff’s legs, it’s defiantly doing something right.

 

JFK (1991)

No Stone Unturned

I’m aware in modern times conspiracy theories have become detrimental in discovering the actual truth (largely thanks to the internet) but I can’t deny that I just love this sort of stuff. JFK requires your utmost attention and at a run time of three hours it feels like the movie leaves no stone upturned (pardon the pun) in its examination and deconstruction of the Kennedy assassination. Admittedly the first time I watched JFK I didn’t understand much of what is discussed in the film. It’s a lot to digest in a single viewing but there are more intriguing theories here than an entire season of Ancient Aliens (minus the bad hair cuts and awkward line delivery); but I can happily watch JFK multiple times to further understand it and eat up every single word of dialogue. I doubt we will ever need another film made about the Kennedy assassination; what highly talented filmmaker could be more passionate about the subject matter? I also highly recommend watching the director’s cut for even more conspiracy goodness to evoke the paranoia in you.

JFK is one of those movies which makes you most appreciate the art of editing, incorporating many layers of time and reels of stock footage; no scene during the movie’s three hours is edited in a standard fashion. The editing help make the film’s exposition exciting; a character may be describing an event as the scene cuts to just that in an obscured or dreamlike manner. The Mr. X sequence with Donald Sutherland is a perfect example of how to pull of engrossing exposition; plus is there a more classic cold war, spy movie type scene than meeting a suited man in the park to receive classified information. Likewise John Williams’ theme for JFK evokes my inner patriotic American, even if I’m not American nor patriotic. The militaristic and at other times conspiratorial nature of the score helps make the movie as compelling as it is. The black & white scenes such as those featuring the military feel reminiscent of Seven Days In May with shades throughout of the John Frankenheimer style. I’m sure Stone must have also taken some pointers from the first movie about the Kennedy assassination, 1973’s Executive Action.

JFK continues the tradition of films such as The Longest Day in which a large ensemble cast of familiar faces and great screen presences to help guide us through the story. It’s amazing seeing different generations of actors doing some of the best work their careers and utilizing their screen personas to full effect even if many of them are only on screen for short spaces of time. Some of the figures in the story strike me as too bizarre to have been real life people, especially David Ferrie and Claw Shaw.

I’ve always been in defense of Kevin Costner against criticisms of being a dull actor. Granted his career did go downhill in mid 90’s and has never fully recovered but in his heyday of the late 1980’s/early 90’s he was such a hot streak of films. Casting him in the role of Jim Garrison couldn’t be more perfect as Costner is much like a modern day classic movie actor in the vein of everymen like James Stewart, Henry Fonda or Gary Cooper. He’s been most commonly compared to Cooper (the courtroom section of the film is reminiscent of Cooper’s role in The Fountainhead) although with his southern demeanor I would compare him to being a modern day Henry Fonda. I would defy anyone to call Costner a bad actor after watching the film’s courtroom scene. Talking almost non-stop for 40 minutes and never losing my attention while exuding a stern, emotional and towards the end of the speech, a fragile voice; with his final conclusion bringing a tear to my eye.

I find Jim Garrison’s family life interesting itself, mostly from the relationship with his wife. What does he see in her? She does not support his endeavors, despite his noble cause and unlike her husband she is susceptible to believing what the media tells her. Here is a man who spends the movie questioning and fighting the system yet has a wife with a conformist personality. I can’t say for certain what they were like in real life but the in film I grew to dislike her character.

JFK  draws no conclusions, it doesn’t prove who assassinated Kennedy and allows the viewer make up their own mind. Stone may be often criticized for his use of a dramatist’s license but as I say with many film’s based on historical events; this can make for a more compelling story. Even if there are untruths present, the film can act as a gateway to wanting to discover the real story. The movie did leave me a feeling of (good) anger and is one of the films I can credit with helping to influence the way I think.

“Dedicated to the young in whose the spirit the search for truth marches on.”

Jack Frost (1998)

Jack Frost: An Appreciation

When I was a kid, nothing got me and my friends more hyped up in anticipation than snow. Yep – glorious white snow. To us there were few other activities as fun as playing in the snow. One major problem however; I grew up in a country in which we only get about 3-4 days a year of significant snowfall, in which it would actually settle on the ground. So when there was a significant level of snowfall, we would make the utmost use of it. Snowball fights, sledding, making snow angels and of course making a snowman.

Snowmen were a subject of my childhood fascination. Why? I’m not quite sure. They just have a certain magical appeal. Whenever I would see one in someone else’s garden, I would always have to point it out, “Look, a snowman!”.  So when my friends and I heard about the movie Jack Frost, in which a snowman comes to life, we were psyched to see it. Although there already existed the 1982 animated short The Snowman which had a similar premise, I believe Jack Frost appealed to us more for several reasons:

-It was a movie more of our generation.

-It was live action and the snowman looks just like a real snowman we could have created ourselves.

-But most importantly, the movie was called Jack Frost. When I was younger, whenever there was a frosty night, we would always say that Jack Frost is out tonight.

So one weekend myself and one of my friends rented Jack Frost on video and we thought it was an absolute blast. However even at that age we thought there were some stupid moments, such as when Charlie is hanging over a wall of snow and he’s supposed to be in danger, yet the drop itself is tiny; or during the sledge chase sequence when two kids just happen to have a snowball the size of a boulder on standby to stop Charlie and Jack. However the one aspect of the film we found to be the most unbelievable was in how Charlie had not got over his father’s death one year on. The reason for this is that a friend of ours had recently lost his father to an illness, yet was back in school one week later, acting as he normally would. To us, Charlie isolating himself from his friends due to his father’s death one year on seemed far fetched.

Several years later, I saw Jack Frost again on TV one weekend and the following Monday in school, it seems half the class also watched it and were all raving about how much we loved it; discussing our favourite moments, talking about the scenes we found to be the funniest. Even my teacher had watched it over the weekend and called it – and I quote – “a wonderful film”. Of course when the advent of the internet age come upon us, I found out Jack Frost is considered a terrible film and the critics trashed it. One of the biggest criticisms I hear against the movie being that the snowman is creepy, which even to this day I’ve never thought so. I think he looks cute, and looks just like a snowman the average kid would make.

I’m probably the only person in the world who will give this film a serious appraisal but when I was younger it did strike a chord with us kids. I watched Jack Frost again several years ago with a more mature perspective and I still enjoyed it, with a pool of happy nostalgic memories coming flooding back. Rock on Jack Frost! Snow dad is better than no dad!

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Once Upon a Time In Hill Valley

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

While I loved Back to the Future Part II for how frantic and fast paced it is, I love Part III for largely the opposite reason; for being more simple and laid back. You need a dark chapter like Part II before you can have something more romantic and light hearted like Part III. I love the western setting, there’s a certain innocence to it and is classic in every sense of the word. There’s monument valley, cowboys, Indians, a saloon as well as the atypical western music score. It’s also fun to see Marty and Doc in a date much further back in time as well as seeing the images, quotes and motifs from the first film reapplied in the western setting. The film shows us Hill Valley during its early days thus over the course of three films we get the entire history (and near future) of this town, making it a character onto itself even if the western setting does raise the question about Hill Valley’s geographical location.

Part III is the Doc’s movie; it gave his character a whole new dimension as his scientific ethics are challenged by falling in love for the first time. I don’t think many people realise it but Doc Brown is a pretty dark character. He blew his family’s fortune on inventions which don’t work (at least until he invented time travel) and is ostracised from the rest of Hill Valley so it’s about time something finally went right in his life and he finds a love. Plus it’s cute, two geeks falling in love who were previously separated by space and time for that added romantic element.

My only complaint with Part III (really my only complaint with any film in the trilogy) is that the film pulls the liar revelled, one of my most dreaded of movie clichés. We know the Doc and Clara are going to get back together towards the end of the movie, so do really need to have the movie abruptly stop for a period. But I’m more forgiving of it in this instance as their separation does contribute to the suspense during the film’s finale which is one of the highlights of the entire trilogy. The interactions between Marty and Doc on the other hand are just as great as ever, even more so that they have to find a way to get the DeLoran up to 88 miles per hour with the technology available to them in 1885. Although I do have to ask is Doc not going against his principles at the end by creating another time machine, oh well, it’s still a great ending. Back to the Future Part III is my least favourite of the series but I still love it. Unlike other film franchises the trilogy is done and dusted. It’s not polluted with further sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, re-whatevers, and hopefully it will stay that way.

The End.