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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #467: The Deer Hunter

Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978) is a prime example of how Christopher Walken is much more than a punch line. People often do impressions of him for his admittedly odd speech pattern, which sadly overshadows his great acting skills. In Cimino’s war film, the last he would direct before the financial disaster Heaven’s Gate, Walken plays a blue-collar worker in 1967 America who starts off as a happy young man only to be irrevocably transformed by the horrors of the Vietnam War. It is an amazing performance in a movie filled with some of the best actors of their generation also working at the top of their game.
I had wanted to see this movie for a long time since it appears on many Best Movies of All Times list and it has a rather infamous Russian roulette sequence that is so iconic it became the movie’s poster. However this is a three-hour movie so you really need to clear your schedule if you are planning on viewing it all in one sitting. Fortunately it became available on Netfli…
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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #378: The Goonies

As I write this it is the weekend when the second season of 80s inspired show Stranger Things has dropped, so it is the perfect time to take a look at one of the many movies that inspired it, The Goonies (1985). Directed by Richard Donner, written by Chris Columbus and based on a story by Steven Spielberg, this is a movie made by some of the best filmmakers of that time. Although it was not a box office smash it went on to become a cult hit and its influences can be clearly seen on Stranger Things and on plenty of other stories featuring a group of young friends who go on extraordinary adventures.
It took me a while to finally see the full movie since it came out a year before I was born. However since it is a cult film I noticed its impact on pop culture over the years, whether it was hearing someone use the rallying cry “Goonies never say die!” or its influence on other movies like J.J Abrams’ Super 8. Watching it the first time I really enjoyed seeing familiar faces acting in one of…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #72: 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men (1957) is another example of how you can make one hell of a movie with a small cast, an enclosed space and a director who knows how to work his cameras. Jury duty is something most people try to avoid, but as directed by Sydney Lumet it becomes a fascinating morality tale as twelve strangers debate the life of a young man accused of murder. Almost entirely shot within one room and with a brisk 96-minute running time it is a timeless classic.
My first viewing was on a DVD rental, so obviously this was a couple of years before Netflix. The DVD extras are definitely worth it for a retrospective on the cast of twelve actors, the film’s legacy, and the opinion of legal scholars. Like all movies it has its flaws, and apparently the most glaring was the judge’s blasé attitude given the fact this is a murder trial. That flaw aside, this is definitely a movie worth seeing with someone else because unlike many movies that come out today it makes you think while you are it and a long…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #412: Heathers

Heathers is a movie that deals with school shootings, bullying, homophobia and teen suicides. Sadly it was not made this year, but in 1988 and remains relevant today. Fortunately it is also a dark comedy with a hints of hope buried amongst the many dead bodies. Also noteworthy, it was a critical hit for stars Christian Slater and Winona Ryder before their careers went off the rails but then got back on track thanks to lead roles in hit TV shows. Clearly some things change and some things stay the same.
Seeing it the first time I was struck by the tone balanced by director Michael Lehmann and writer Daniel Waters, and thought there is no way this could be made today. A lot of bad things have happened in schools in North America between 1988 and today, chief among them mass shootings. Bullying is ever present thanks to social media, and suicide is such a hot-button issue in schools that some organizations were afraid the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why might encourage teens to take their own…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #73: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) has a clever idea for a plot that is executed by a rather oddball crew of artists. In the director’s chair you have Michel Gondry, a French filmmaker whose creativity is always recognisable no matter the project. On writing duties you have Charlie Kaufman, known for writing screenplays that seem to take on a life of their own. Then in front of the camera you have Jim Carrey in serious mode, which doesn’t always work, but the results are always interesting.
When the movie came out I was still used to the idea of Jim Carrey as a manic comedian since I grew up watching him in movies like Ace Ventura and The Mask. When he is in a drama you almost always expect him to eventually burst out and talk out of his butt. That might be why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not one of his biggest box-office successes, but even 13 years ago I could see this is a very smart movie dealing with deep ideas. Its characters are all convinced that in order…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #452: Unbreakable

Unbreakable (2000) is a movie that is becoming more and more relevant as time goes by. For one thing it is one of the last good movies M. Night Shyamalan made before his career took a pretty steep nose-dive. For another it deals with the idea of super heroes and villains in a world where none of those exist and yet and approaches these concepts while steeped in realism. Nowadays there are at least five super hero movies that come out every year, but Unbreakable still feels fresh and original despite the fact two of its actors are now part of the Marvel and DC movie universe.
Early on in his career Shyamalan became known for the twist endings in his movies, and Unbreakable is no exception. Unfortunately it took me 15 years to finally see the whole thing on Netflix and by then the ending had been spoiled just like with The Sixth Sense. Then the same thing happened again this year when Shyamalan released Split in which SPOILER ALERT, Bruce Willis has a cameo at the end. When the next sequ…