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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #76: Manhattan

Woody Allen: a filmmaker many of us have mixed feelings about. I feel that’s how most of my reviews about his films are going to start. He has written and directed very funny movies, he certainly knows how to shoot in New York City, and apparently he’s a pretty good jazz player. He is also a guy who married the adopted daughter of his ex-wife, has been accused of sexual molestation, and in his movies he often plays a character who dates women who are much younger than he is. All of the good and the bad traits of Allen are on display in Manhattan (1979), one of his most acclaimed movies.
I liked many things about this movie when I first saw it. I enjoyed the use of black and white cinematography, the opening montage in which Allen lauds his home turf of NYC, the use of jazz music, and the cast of characters. However I was also uncomfortable with the fact that Isaac Mortimer Davis, the 40-year-old TV writer played by Allen, is in a relationship with Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway) a 17-year-ol…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #455: Top Gun

Top Gun (1986) is pure 1980s American gun-ho patriotism as well as an unofficial recruitment ad for that country’s air force. It features Tom Cruise in the nascent stages of his career as the world’s biggest movie star, U.S pilots flipping off those pesky Russians in the air, and the chart-topping single by Kenny Loggins, Danger Zone. Many aspects of this movie are now dated, but on first viewing it is hard not to be pulled in by the adrenaline-pumping ride.
For many people this movie was a defining moment in pop culture, leading viewers to either adopt the nickname “Goose” or “Maverick,” or go a step further and actually join the air force. That was not the case for me since I was born the same year Top Gun came out, and I don’t think I was ever its specific target audience anyway. When I think of Anthony Edwards I don’t think of him flying fighter jets, I think of him operating on patients as Doctor Greene on E.R. However over the years I kept seeing the cultural influence of Top Gun

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #78: Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is that special kind of horror film that can get under your skin while spilling very little blood. It has no masked killer that jumps out of a corner, no monster chasing characters down dark corridors, and no armies of zombies lumbering the streets. Yet it is profoundly unsettling, not only because it deals with a satanic cult, but because the story’s protagonist and her unborn child are unwilling participants in that cult’s scheme.
Watching the film on Halloween two years ago it occurred to me this story is probably twice as scary for women. Having children is already a nerve-wracking prospect, but being tricked into having the devil’s spawn against your will: that is nightmarish on a whole other level. However director Roman Polanski takes his time in revealing the full extent of this nightmare, at times even suggesting all of the protagonist’s fears might just be paranoia. It takes a while for the full extent of the horror to be revealed, but it is worth the …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #81: Batman Begins

It took the storytelling skills of British director Christopher Nolan to finally get Batman right. The 1960s TV show, starring the late great Adam West, had a lot of action, but was overly campy. The Tim Burton films felt very much like comic books come to life, but the villains stole the spotlight. Then there was Joel Schumacher who nearly killed the franchise by turning it into a live-action cartoon and by putting nipples on the suit. However with Batman Begins (2005) the spotlight was firmly placed on the character of Bruce Wayne as he becomes a vigilante, the villains were much less campy, and the action sequences seemed to be set in our world.
Like many people my expectations for Batman Begins were pretty low for what would be chronologically the fifth theatrical Batman movie. I had watched Batman Forever many times on VHS, but Batman & Robin, the last Schumacher entry, had left a very bad taste in my mouth. Going into theatres in Quebec City in the summer of 2005 all I knew w…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #82: The Great Escape

I love movies in which a team of talented individuals get together to achieve a common goal. Such examples include thieves trying to rob a casino, black ops soldiers trying to destroy enemy weapons, or Tom Cruise and company trying to break into CIA headquarters during an impossible mission. John Sturges’ The Great Escape (1963) stands out in this category because here the group in question is not trying to break into a place, but break out. Specifically they are a group of POWs trying to escape a massive Nazi prison camp in order to distract German troops while the Allies are getting ready to invade. The film may have its share of historical inaccuracies, but it is a historical piece of filmmaking since its cast is made up of some of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time.
Although it was released in the early 1960s The Great Escape has endured the test of time, first by becoming many grandfathers’ favourite movie, and then by influencing many filmmakers to come. Quentin Tarantin…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #83: Brazil

Dystopian movies from the 1980s are a funny thing since we now live in the future of those movies and if you look at the news for more than five minutes it will feel as though we are one bad day away from being into a dystopia. On the plus side, if it ends up looking like the dystopia portrayed in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) at least we will have lovely architecture to look at while the government is busy telling us how to think. This might not be a movie that will cheer you up, but the production design is amazing, the performances are great throughout, and you get to see Robert DeNiro play a maintenance man/freedom fighter.
I first saw Brazil as a Terry Gilliam double feature at the Universit√© de Sherbrooke’s movie club paired along with 12 Monkeys around ten years ago. Those two films are similar in that they both feature a rather dour future and, as with most Gilliam movies, incredibly intricate sets. However the dystopian future in Brazil is somewhat scarier than the disease-ra…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #84: L.A Confidential

Gangster films have many things in common, but gangster films set in sunny Los Angeles have a special flavour of their own. It doesn’t matter if the main characters are gun-totting criminals or crooked cops, if the setting is Tinseltown then celebrity culture will be a factor. In the Curtis Hanson directed L.A Confidential (1997) a cop moonlights as an advisor for a popular TV show about cops, a publisher of a tabloid magazine sets up celebrity arrests, and a pimp has a group of prostitutes surgically altered to look like Hollywood actresses. Throw in a femme fatale into the mix and you have one delicious piece of film noir.
If I recall well this was a movie I saw on HBO with my parents a few years after it came out while we were living in South America. The content matter was somewhat mature for my age at the time, but if anything I had more trouble following the storyline since this is an over two-hour movie with lots of characters, plot twists, and betrayals. Like The Dude said, the…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #86: Carrie

And you thought your prom night was bad. Had it happened in real life, the tale of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) and what she did after a horrible prank during her big moment at her prom would have become an urban legend to scare high school students for generations. Fortunately it is only a work of fiction envisioned by horror master Stephen King and first brought to the big screen by Brian De Palma in 1976. It is an undoubtedly scary film, but also one that deals with important themes such as bullying, kindness, and acceptance.
This is one of those stories where I really did my homework. I have given myself the goal to read all of Stephen Kings’ oeuvre and Carrie is one of his earliest novels. In addition to seeing De Palma’s adaptation on Netflix have also seen the 2013 remake directed by Kimberly Peirce with Chloe Grace Moretz in the Carrie role. Both movies tell pretty much the same story with different budgets, but I must conclude the original is bleaker and much more in the horror…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #88: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

American high schools were fertile ground for John Hughes as a writer and director. They provided the setting for the classic The Breakfast Club (1985), which featured five typical characters from that world, and the following year Hughes struck gold again with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That movie featured a character who is in a way the king of a Chicago high school and who is so confident he skilfully skips school with his best friend and girlfriend by his side. Ferris is a bit like James Bond for high school: girls want him and boys want to be him.
For many people this was a movie that defined their generation, especially if they saw it while still in high school. However since it came out the year I was born that was impossible for me. It’s a shame, because the high school movie that was the big hit during my formative years was American Pie (1999). Generation X people got to see Matthew Broderick sing Twist and Shout at a parade, while Millenials got to see Jason Biggs stuffing hi…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #90: When Harry Met Sally...

There is an age-old question regarding whether single men and women can be just friends. In real life the answer is obviously “yes,” but in movies and TV the answer always has to be that at some point two single characters will get attracted to each other and move beyond friendship. On TV I find this to be contrived and overused, but some movies can have a lot of fun with the concept, most notably Rob Reiner’s comedy classic When Harry Met Sally…(1989). It may not change your view on love and friendship, but it forever changed the meaning of the phrase “I’ll have what she’s having.”
On paper this film’s premise sounds like another rom-com, but seen by oneself during an evening of Netflix binging it does make you think about deep stuff like the long-term impact of your decisions on your life. A person you meet during a tense trip might turn up again sometime later down the road in the most unexpected ways. If there is one thing I believe in it is infinite possibilities, and Nora Ephron…