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.

Definitely Maybe (1994)

D’Yer Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star?

Oasis, a name which invokes power and grandeur. Some might say Oasis sucks, they’re a Beatles rip off, they haven’t done anything good since 1996, the brothers are pricks and just fight all the time, insert British band here is so much better. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life debunking such criticisms just like how I’ll be spending the rest of my life listening to Oasis. Unpretentious songs about liking, nay, loving yourself, being true to yourself, simply trusting what you believe and speaking your mind. Ultimately this brand of non conformity comes at a price, and perhaps Oasis paid this price; could this be one of the reasons they get the stick they do? I’m an optimist at heart, thus one of the reasons Oasis appeals to me. Few other artists can strike up such an emotional connection with the listener and worth getting passionate about to such a high degree.

In the tradition of the movie High Fidelity’s top 5 lists; top 5 side 1, track 1’s, Oasis – Rock n’ Roll Star of Definitely Maybe. When I listen to this song I have to repeat the final 90 seconds over and over again and absorb every moment of its guitar riffing, drum bashing perfection. Oasis are an arrogant band and this song sums this up perfectly. The band’s combination of Noel’s catchy hooks and Liam’s enunciating on words (Gonnnnnaaaaa Liiiiiivvvvveeee Forevvvvvvvvverrrrrrrrr) is what makes Oasis the drug that it is; always coming back for more. Songs like Shakermaker and Columbia are hypnotic; I remember listening to Shakermaker well over a dozen times in a row shortly after hearing it for the first time. The opening lyrics to Supersonic on the other hand, the song which they first released sums up my life’s philosophy. Like many Oasis songs it has an obvious message, but I believe at the end of the day we need to reminded of obvious messages in our lives as we seem to forget them all the time.

Choosing a favourite song from Oasis ain’t easy but does there exist a song more emotionally shattering than Live Forever? In 4 minutes and 30 seconds Liam’s powerful yet at times fragile voice waves a wide gauntlet of human emotion, the desire to be immortal, to never be forgotten. Noel Gallagher was motivated to write the song after hearing a song from Nirvana titled “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die”. Let’s face it, it’s easy to be pessimistic and look cool because of it, it takes courage to express optimism.

I have a poster of the Definitely Maybe on my bedroom wall, and will regularly take a look at it to admire its beauty and always noticing something within it which I never saw before. As with the band’s album and single covers throughout the 90’s, the genius comes from their simplicity.

Oasis hit their peak early on; I remember hearing comments from Noel Gallagher stating he could never write songs like that again or else you would get laughed out of town; you can only write like that when you’re uninhibited and nobody is listening to your music. Definitely Maybe is the punkier, dirtier companion to the cleaner, more commercial sounding Morning Glory; not that makes Morning Glory any less album. The way I see it, Definitely Maybe is like The Terminator, where as Morning Glory is like Terminator 2. Sometimes I wish I could erase my mind of songs so I can listen to them again as if hearing for the first time, that couldn’t be truer here. Definitely, Maybe the best debut album of all time? Not maybe, definitely!

 

Definitely Maybe Era B-Sides and Rarities

What band has better B-sides than Oasis? Their B-sides are better than most bands biggest hits. It’s the greatest collection of unknown songs ever. Their singles where all like mini albums, each with a cover which was a work of art itself. For a time I was content with just listening to Oasis’ albums, but when I really started to delve into the band’s B-sides it was like falling in love with Oasis all over again.

The 1998 compilation album The Masterplan contained most the band’s B-sides up until that point but not all of them; a shame too as there are some absolute gems which didn’t. The deluxe edition of Definitely Maybe brings all the B-sides from the Definitely Maybe era together as well as various other rarities, all apart from a live version of Bring It On Down from the Shakermaker single. Not a major loss as there is nothing particular stand out about it, but it would be nice for it to be there for completist sake. Now if we can just get a deluxe edition of Be Here Now then all will be well with the world.

Take Me Away is such a simple yet powerful song, with Noel’s vocals being so fragile; you can hear the desperation in his voice. Another downbeat song with Noel on vocals D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman? is so beautiful it hurts; plus it also gets the vote for my favourite Oasis song title. The story goes that Liam didn’t want to sing these downbeat songs as he considered himself a “rock ‘n’ roller” and didn’t want to play that wimpy shit; says the guy who later wrote songbird. You haven’t heard Oasis’ cover of I Am the Walrus until you’ve heard the full length version from the Cigarettes & Alcohol single; The Masterplan version was shortened by two minutes. The Beatles created it, Oasis stole it. Then there’s Half the World Away, a song which sums up a period of my life (and many other people’s lives), being stuck in a dead end town where you can’t express yourself creatively.

Cloudburst is the only slightly weaker Definitely Maybe b-side; it has energy to it but lacks a coherent structure. Everything else are absolute gems, like a secret collection of songs just for Oasis diehards. It makes me wonder what Oasis have never seen the light of day, perhaps those are the greatest Oasis songs of all.