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Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
With a cast like this, how could they possibly fail?
"Glengarry Glen Ross" put me very much in mind of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman", in that it gives a marvellously accurate portrayal of the struggles of the working man, this time in the field of real estate sales. A small group of salesman, who have struggled to close any deals recently are given an ultimatum: close your next few deals of else lose your job. For a little added incentive, the man who makes the most sales will win a Cadillac. Simple enough storyline, you might think but the magnificent ensemble acting is a joy to behold and makes the film truly great. Al Pacino, as always, stands out as hotshot salesman Roma and the supporting players are just as impressive, including Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey and a particularly fiery Ed Harris. Even Alec Baldwin turns up in a memorable cameo early on. However, for me, the real star of the show was the late Jack Lemmon who played the frustrated loser to perfection and really made you feel pity for his character. An extraordinary achievement, "Glengarry Glen Ross" is one of the best films I have seen recently and all involved deserve credit for making it so hugely enjoyable. Great stuff.
Much Better, Mr. Ritchie
After seeing and loathing Guy Ritchie's previous effort, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" I was hardly looking forward to this, his follow up of a similar nature. However, I was very surprised by the film, because I enjoyed it immensely. The story was not especially original but I thought the acting talent was a huge improvement and the comedy moments a good deal funnier. Of the actors involved I was especially impressed by Alan Ford, who was suitably intimidating as Brick Top and also Stephen Graham, who I'd never seen before but I'm sure I'll be seeing him elsewhere in the future. Best of all, however, is Dennis Farina whom I found hilarious in the role of Cousin Avi and felt he lit up every scene he was in. Of course, the traces of the "Lock Stock" bad acting regime was still there, with Jason Statham just appallingly bad as Turkish. I shudder in recollection of it. Vinnie Jones just plays himself as usual but I'll admit he has improved slightly since "Lock Stock". Who knows, ten films down the line, he might border on competent.
I recommend the film to anyone, even if they hated "Lock Stock" as I did. It aint perfect but it's an enjoyable film all the same, if you can put up with the tiresome, self-indulgent camera tricks that Ritchie uses throughout.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Outstanding...the best of 2000
Having missed this film on it's limited UK theatrical run I made sure I purchased it immediately after it's DVD release. I wasn't disappointed, far from it. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is the most enjoyable film I have had the pleasure to have watched recently and, although it may be considered sacrilege by Coen die-hards, I thought it was better than "Fargo" and, let's face it, that takes some beating.
The story is loosely based on Homer's Odyssey, the magnificent George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, the leader of an escaped chain gang which includes John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson. En route to find some hidden treasure they encounter the Cyclops in the form of Coen stalwart John Goodman's Bible salesman and become embroiled in an election campaign between Klan leader Homer Stokes and governor Pappy O'Daniel. It's surreal, entertaining and by far the best film of 2000 and it's such a shame that the academy and much of the public ignored it completely. Clooney's performance is on a par with that in "Out of Sight". Turturro is, as ever, excellent and the little known Nelson is surprisingly good as dim-witted Delmar.
A real treat, and the music's great too. Miss this at your cost.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Perhaps Stanley Kubrick's most famous film, "2001" left the majority of cinema-goers puzzled when it first hit screens back in 1968. Even today, the film leaves people bemused, confused and even disappointed. In my opinion, everyone sees the film as something different to everyone else. To me it is the definitive science-fiction film (Stanley Kubrick said he wanted to make "the proverbial good science-fiction movie") and it contains some of the most startling imagery ever captured on film. From the opening sequence which shows us the dawn of man to the final sequence of the space-child image in the sky, the film has everything...except, perhaps, a consistent plotline throughout. That doesn't really matter because this isn't really that type of film. The intention was to show, I think, the wonders of the galaxy and explore mankind's fascination with the unknown.
The most intense part of the film (and the only section with a strong plotline) is the manned mission to Jupiter, which features the malfunctioning computer HAL, which is probably well-known even to those who haven't seen the film. HAL tries to sabotage the mission and it is up to the two human astronauts on board to try and stop him.
Then we're back to the space imagery again and it is up to the viewer to make up his own mind on what exactly they are watching.
Make of it what you will but to me it was a classic the minute it hit screens back in 1968 and will continue to be so for all time in my opinion.
Probably the least enjoyable movie experience of my life...
This is the film that spawned all the shockingly bad British gangster films of 1999 and 2000 and this is no better than any of it's offspring.
The basic premise of the film is far from original, a group of young criminals make a mess of a job and so on, blah blah blah. The film is billed as being a crime comedy but I don't recall laughing once. The characters are your typical cockneys, aside from the irritating accent, all you hear is various people being referred to as muppets, mugs and slags and then indulging in glorified violence. Nothing wrong with violence, some of my favourite films are heavy on the bloodshed, including "Goodfellas" and "Reservoir Dogs" but this is a dismal attempt to make it seem funny, when it really isn't.
Guy Ritchie, despite the reputation he is building for himself strikes me as being a director of a lot of style but very little substance and I don't care how many people tell me otherwise, VINNIE JONES CANNOT ACT. The same could also be said for the rest of the performers in this appalling, yet well-received film. Avoid at all costs.
The early signs were good...
Paul Thomas Anderson's debut picture is by no means as good as his more successful ventures, "Boogie Nights" (1997) and "Magnolia" (1999) but there is still a lot to appreciate in the film. Re-titled as "Hard Eight", the film is all about a middle-aged gambler who takes a young homeless man under his wing and proceeds to teach him the tricks of the trade. Right from the very start, the performances of Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly (who would become frequent Anderson collaborators) in the two lead roles grab your attention and manage to keep a hold until the credits roll. This is a sure sign of a successful film (critically that is, financially is a different thing altogether).
Some time later, when the pair have established themselves in the gambling fraternity, they look after a young prostitute (a change of pace for Gwyneth Paltrow) and John (Reilly) soon falls in love with her.
The story is a little bit patchy in places, something you'd perhaps expect from a young film-maker's first feature and there are one or two plot holes, but don't let that put you off, for it is a great film in its own right. Anderson, in my opinion, is one of the most technically gifted directors in Hollywood and I'm sure he'll continue to entertain us long into the future.
Lacking the assuredness of his next two films, "Hard Eight" (or "Sydney") is still a very enjoyable film and a worthy debut from Anderson. Catch it if you can.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Michael Cimino's celebrated film about the horrors of the Vietnam war and the effect it has on the inhabitants of a small American town is perhaps the most intriguing of all the films made about the war. It doesn't have the mystery and the action (or, dare I say, "the horror...") of Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" which was released a year later and it is certainly a lot better than Oliver Stone's 1986 effort "Platoon", which I was more than a little disappointed with.
The main strength of "The Deer Hunter" lies in the ensemble acting. Robert de Niro, hot property after "The Godfather Part II" and Scorcese's "Taxi Driver" takes the lead role of Michael but his performance is bolstered by the support players, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken and John Cazale who sadly died of cancer weeks after the film was released.
The film is perhaps too slow for some people's tastes, there is a drawn out wedding scene at the beginning, which is reminiscent of the opening section of "The Godfather". Michael and his friends are planning to go hunting so as to have lasting memories of one another before they set off for Vietnam.
Once there, they discover just ow awful war really is and there is a truly horrifying and disturbing scene in which Michael and Nick (Walken) are forced to play Russian Roulette. The scene is so brilliantly played that you simply cannot take your eyes off screen.
To be honest there isn't really a solid plot to the film but the message it carries (as so many of these films do) is that war is a terrible thing. The difference with "The Deer Hunter" from many other Vietnam films is that you feel that those involved truly meant it.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The funniest film ever made?
This film is just fantastic, that is, if I should call it a film at all. For Rob Reiner's spot-on satire of the rock and roll industry is presented in mock documentary form, so it is really a rockumentary mockumentary.
Film director Marty di Bergi (Reiner) decides to make a film which chronicles the ups and downs of his favourite rock band, Britain's own Spinal Tap, who are about to embark upon a comeback tour to promote their new album "Smell The Glove" (previous albums included "Intravenus de Milo"; "The Gospel According To Spinal Tap" and "Shark Sandwich"). The band consists of five members; Nigel Tufnel, lead guitar (Guest), David St. Hubbins, lead guitar/vocals (McKean), Derek Smalls, bass guitar (Shearer) and the three central characters are backed up by their bizarre keyboard player Viv and there latest drummer Mick Shrimpton. The film documents how previous drummers met their grisly demise, whether it's choking on vomit ("They can't prove whose vomit it was"), through a bizarre gardening accident or simply exploding on stage ("There was just a little green globule on his drum stool").
Behind the scenes, Tap rely on manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) who has to organise their concerts (with little success) or deal with unpleasant hotel managers.
The band go through a number of different PR stunts to try and promote the album but sales are hindered by the cover. The original, "lurid" cover was deemed sexist ("What's wrong with being sexy?" Nigel remarked) and so a compromise was reached which saw the album cover being completely black, with no design or logo of any sort on it. Nigel tried to look on the bright side of the dismal cover ("It's interesting though, because the question is: How much more black could this be and the answer is...none. None more black..."). Good-hearted PR man Artie Fufkin tries to organise an album signing which is also met with little success. The band is beginning to fall apart, little by little and the arrival of David's girlfriend Jeanine is met with annoyance by Nigel, who proceeds to quit the band. Is this the end of Spinal Tap? You'll have to watch it and see.
In between the vague plot, director di Bergi conducts interviews with the band and at one stage asks them about their reviews - "The review you had on 'Shark Sandwich', which was just a two word review simply said 'Sh*t Sandwich'".
Of course, we couldn't have a film about rock and roll without the music and we are treated to excerpts from a number of Tap's songs, including "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight", "Stonehenge" (which features the smallest stone henge model you're likely to see - "The problem was we had a model that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf!"), "Big Bottom" and "Heavy Duty". There is also the mention of a song we don't actually get to hear, the imaginatively titled "Reach Out When You Die In My Champagne."
The film is littered with a vast array of scenes and situations that you have probably heard of before; the opening stage pods which don't open, the custom made amps which go up to 11, not 10 ("Well, it's one louder, isn't it?") and many more, there are too many to mention, really.
If this enthusiastic review hasn't convinced you to see it, then I don't know what will, it is just hilarious, especially on numerous viewings, there is a lot you'll not pick up on at first. The Special Edition DVD release also includes deleted footage and a commentary from the band which is just as funny as the film itself.
See it for yourself and see what all I'm talking about and if you already have you'll know what I mean when I say this must be one of the funniest films ever made, perhaps even THE funniest.
The Best of the Series
Stuck right in the middle of the revolutionary opening chapter, "A New Hope" and the action-packed finale "Return of the Jedi" came this much darker, more involving tale. "The Empire Strikes Back" takes a slower and more thoughtful approach as young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is told by his former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi to travel to the Dagoba system, in the far reaches of the galaxy, to find Kenobi's own Jedi master, Yoda.
At the same time as he is receiving this information, the Imperial Army is bearing down upon the ice planet of Hoth, where the Rebel Alliance have set up base. Leia (Carrie Fisher)and the other leaders of the Alliance order an immediate evacuation but they are not quick enough and a huge battle breaks out, plunging the base into chaos. Amidst all this confusion, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his reliable co-pilot Chewbacca are trying to make their own bid for freedom and plan to leave the Alliance behind to make their fortune elsewhere. As chaos sets in on the base, Leia and droid C-3PO end up on board Solo's Millennium Falcon and they make their bid for freedom unsure of their destination.
Meanwhile, Luke and R2-D2 have crash-landed on Dagoba and find it to be a dank, unpleasant swamp crawling with all manner of insects and strange wildlife. Luke finds Yoda eventually, but he is not what he expected at all. All the same he is willing to be taught and Yoda begins to train him in the ways of the Force so that he too may become a Jedi.
Meanwhile, on the run from Darth Vader and the Imperial Army, Solo decides to visit an old friend of his, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) who in fact, lost the Millennium Falcon to Solo on a bet some years earlier. However, despite the initial welcome, disaster follows and Luke is forced to halt his training halfway through to try and resolve the situation...
Very dark in tone and aimed less at the children than the other episodes, "The Empire Strikes Back" ranks as one of the finest science-fiction films ever made, building on the outstanding special effects of "A New Hope" and also vastly improving the plot. The acting, of course, is top notch and who could ever forget that mind-blowing ending?
Lucas may not have been in the director's chair for this one but it doesn't mean the film is any less worthy than the original, it surpasses it in terms of story, character development and enjoyment. Perhaps the most critically acclaimed episode, "The Empire Strikes Back" is certainly the most influential and significant piece of the puzzle. Fantastic.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The Definitive 90's Film
Back in 1992, a movie written and directed by a video store clerk rocked Hollywood. There was a new kid in town, namely Quentin Tarantino. With "Reservoir Dogs" he had re-defined the crime thriller with his quirky dialogue and controversial depiction of violence. The amazing part is, people talk about it as much today as they did then, and why not? It deserves all the credit it receives.
The film centres on a heist gone wrong; Six guys are put together on one job - a diamond heist. To protect their identities, they are each given a colour-coded alias: Mr. White (the outstanding Harvey Keitel, who, incidentally, had a big hand in getting the film made); Mr. Orange (the then-relatively unknown Tim Roth); Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen); Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker); Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi, surely one of the most under-rated actors around) and Mr. Brown, played by Mr. Tarantino himself.
The film opens with a perfect example of Tarantino's dialogue, as the guys discuss whether or not Madonna's "Like A Virgin" was a metaphor for big dicks and then debate with Mr. Pink on why waitresses should be given a tip ("I won't tip just because society says I have to"). From then on, the film is told in flashback, as Mr. Whit and Mr. Pink, along with the wounded Mr. Orange try to figure out why the heist went wrong. Keitel really carries the film and it's his presence that probably ensured the film was made. Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde is the perfect cold blooded killer and there is also able support from the likes of Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn.
Tarantino went on to make the similarly impressive "Pulp Fiction" (1994)(which included some of the "Reservoir Dogs" cast) and then later "Jackie Brown" (1997), an adaption of an Elmore Leonard novel. "Reservoir Dogs" is probably my personal favourite, though, with it's fast-paced storyline and terrific acting.
It's been said so many times but it's true: "Reservoir Dogs" is the most influential film of the 90's, of that there is no question.
So, here it is: the film that made everyone afraid of the water and gave sharks a bad reputation that they are still unable to shake off. "Jaws" is my personal favourite of all of Spielberg's films, it has it all: humour, suspense, a great story, magnificent acting and, most importantly of all, it grabs your attention immediately and doesn't let go. The film is set in the small seaside resort of Amity, a peaceful holiday town and to its residents, the summer means everything to their business. However, all is not well beneath the surface of the ocean, for a 25 foot great white shark has staked a claim in the waters. It begins to pick off some of the townsfolk and the panic begins to spread. Enter Police Chief Brody (a career-defining performance from Roy Schieder), who tries to close down the beaches to protect the people but is soon met with opposition from the Mayor (Murray Hamilton) who refuses to have them shut down for the 4th of July weekend. As a compromise, Brody calls in an expert from the oceanographic institute, Matt Hooper (one of Richard Dreyfuss' early roles, and one of his best) who warns the mayor also of the dangers of allowing people into the water when a beast of such mammoth proportions is lurking below. Predictably, disaster strikes and the mayor finally relents, allowing Brody to hire a contractor, someone to go out and kill the shark. The contractor comes in the form of an old sea dog in the mould of Captain Ahab, namely Quint (Robert Shaw in fine form as usual) who has had several experiences with sharks on his many voyages. He accepts the duty ("I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him and kill him for ten") and so he, Brody and Hooper set out to hunt down the beast. However, it isn't long before the hunters become the hunted...
I don't think I've had as much sheer enjoyment watching a film as I have when watching this 1975 classic. Everything about it is perfect, the cast, the script, the effects, everything. Anyone who criticises the shark for being unrealistic ought to have their heads examined, not only was it as good as was available at the time, but I haven't seen it bettered in any modern offerings - "Deep Blue Sea"? The sharks in that pathetic excuse for a film are shamefully poor, I am still shocked to hear people claim that that production bettered "Jaws" in any way. Steven Spielberg's offering is far superior to any other tale of the ocean and I doubt it will ever be bettered.
I couldn't write a review of "Jaws" without commenting on John Williams Academy-Award winning score - the best score I've ever heard. Just listening to it without the images encaptures the spirit and mystery of the ocean and who could possibly forget the oft-imitated main theme used to indicate the shark's arrival?
This is as close as cinema can get to perfection in the action-horror genre, every moment of "Jaws" is priceless, and I for one will never tire of watching this marvel.
Kubrick's Best Film
Being a great fan of the late, great Stanley Kubrick it is difficult to try and single one film out as being better than any other. However, I do firmly believe that nothing he ever produced ever bettered this 1964 (or maybe 1963 depending on which source you believe) offering. Made during the height of the Cold War, with everyone fearing nuclear combat, this was certainly a daring project and one that could have met with harsh criticism, it is a comedy after all. Thankfully, it is now regarded as one of the greatest films of all time and quite rightly so. The story is alarmingly plausible in a number of ways; General Jack D. Ripper (played with aplomb by Sterling Hayden) loses his mind and immediately orders a nuclear air strike against Russia. He then proceeds to lock himself inside his military base and tells his soldiers - unaware of his mental deterioration - to kill anyone who approaches. Locked inside with him is Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (played by the awesome Peter Sellers), a nervous, unassuming chap who tries desperately to convince Ripper to give him the three letter code needed to recall the planes.
At the same time, the leading American military figures, along with the President and his entourage, meet in the War Room and try to work out what their course of action should be. Amongst the group is General Buck Turgidson (the hilarious George C. Scott in what I regard is his best role), an edgy and excitable fellow who cannot wait to begin fighting the "Rooskies". He tries desperately to convince US President Merkin Muffley (Sellers again) that violence is the best course of action, but is met with little support. It isn't long before the Russian Ambassador is called in and is told the news. He is met with suspicion by General Turgidson who is soon grappling with him, which results in one of the finest lines ever heard in cinema ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the War Room!"). With the planes approaching their targets, the Russian President is contacted by phone ("Could you turn the music down a little, Dmitri?") and it is revealed that Russia has a secret plan which will have huge implications for the future of the planet. Enter the mysterious Dr. Strangelove (yes, that is Peter Sellers again) who has his own plan which could conceivably save mankind. But will there be enough time to put it into action?
A joy from start to finish (and what a finish it is), I just love this film, and I know many others do too. If you haven't seen it, please do so and see just how witty and ingenious cinema can be, and if you have seen it, you'll know exactly what I mean when I say that this film is Kubrick's best and also one of cinema's very best. They truly do not make them like this anymore.
Life of Brian (1979)
Probably the funniest film of all time
The Monty Python team's finest hour, "Life of Brian" is absolutely hilarious from start to finish. A wide range of characters are played by the six members of the Monty Python team, the most memorable include Michael Palin's speech-impaired Roman governor, Eric Idle's transvestite wannabe Stan/Loretta and of course Brian himself, played with great aplomb by the late Graham Chapman, who also played the lead role in the equally amusing "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975). Some of the scenes are classic Python, including the ageing gladiator keeling over in the arena ("I think I'm about to go into cardiac arrest!") and who could possibly forget the finale in which the whole cast break into song, the brilliant 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life', also written by Eric Idle.
If you've got even a vague sense of humour, you'll not stop laughing throughout and will probably still be chuckling long after the film has finished. The best example of Python's cinematic exploits, and the film was made all the more popular after the controversy caused by its religious content upon its release in 1979. The protesters missed the point entirely, so make sure that you don't : See this film now, you won't regret it.
Ed Wood (1994)
The second best film of 1994, but still one of the best of the 90's
Highly enjoyable and very amusing biopic of the "worst director of all-time", Edward D. Wood Jr. He made the'classics' "Glen or Glenda", one man's struggle to cope with his transvestite tendencies, and his masterpiece, the supernatural thriller "Plan 9 From Outer Space". Of course, the film glosses over some of the more unpleasant aspects of Wood's life and takes some creative licence but the finished result is fantastic. Johnny Depp gives a career best performance as the charismatic Wood, making the character very believable and endearing, this being one of the reasons the film works so well. A great deal of praise must surely be given to Oscar-winner Martin Landau, who plays the frail Bela Lugosi with great aplomb; the likeness is quite uncanny. There is also able support from the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, George "The Animal" Steele, Mike Starr and the brilliant Bill Murray in one of his best roles, as the effeminate Bunny Breckinridge.
There isn't really much of a plot (who needs one when you're having so much fun?), the film focuses on the Ed's dream of being the next Orson Welles ("He was twenty-six when he made Citizen Kane - and I'm already thirty!"), and there is a truly memorable scene in which he meets his hero, probably my favourite scene in the film, in fact.
I can't praise the film enough, one of the most enjoyable films ever made, and this is still director Tim Burton's second best film, behind the outstanding "Edward Scissorhands", which also starred Johnny Depp in the title role. Bettered in 1994 only by "The Shawshank Redemption", I heartily recommend this film to anyone and everyone. Sheer brilliance.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
One of the treasures of the cinema
There aren't many films I would praise as highly as I could "A Clockwork Orange", the select few would be the likes of "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994); "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946) and Kubrick's marginally (very marginally, I might add) better "Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb" (1964). Of course "A Clockwork Orange" has its critics - indeed, what film doesn't? - but none of these narrow-minded individuals can prevent me from appreciating the film. A grim vision of the future sees young Alex (a career-best performance from Malcolm MacDowell) and his band of 'droogs' (there are a lot of post-modern slang words used in the film, by the way) who spend every evening beating, raping and pillaging innocent people for their own amusement. In 1971, the film understandably caused outrage for its graphic violence and sexual scenes but by modern standards they are what cinema-goers have come to expect. Alex is arrested and the film centres on his rehabilitation in prison and how he volunteers for a revolutionary new treatment aimed at wiping out crime.
A hugely important film, it most likely paved the way for the more tolerant censorship of today, as violence on-screen became gradually more accepted.
Being a UK resident, I had to wait a while before being able to legally see the film, Kubrick infamously pulled the film from UK Cinemas amidst fears of copycat violence and proclaimed it could not be released until after he went to that great editing suite in the sky, which he lamentably did in 1999.
One of the greatest cinematic achievements, don't be put off by the film's unsavoury reputation, it's not nearly as horrifying as you might think. The chilling question the film provokes is just how far are we now from the future Kubrick envisioned?
One thing goes without question - Stanley Kubrick is the best director bar none.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson's third feature is by far his best, and is by far the best film of 1999. The basic plot outline doesn't do the film justice, a group of people from different walks of life endure an amazing day in the San Fernando Valley and through the course of the day their lives interconnect and have some sort of influence on one another. Hardly enthralling viewing, you might think, especially given the film's indulgent running time of just over three hours. The real strength of the film is in the great ensemble cast, many of whom starred in Anderson's critically acclaimed "Boogie Nights" (1997), amongst them William H Macy (surely one of the greatest actors of the moment), Julianne Moore, John C Reilly, Ricky Jay (who also narrates the film) and newcomers to Anderson's world, the late Jason Robards Jr and a great performance from Tom Cruise, in surely his most outstanding performance to date. It's such a shame he had to resort to the dirge that was M:I-2 afterwards. Still, money talks.
Anderson has already shown that he will be one of the greatest directors since Stanley Kubrick, with such dazzling visual flair and technique and the ability to choose the right actor for each part.
Faultless (never have three hours flown by so quickly), Magnolia will surely go down as one of the greatest American films of all time; of course, the academy largely ignored it (I still think i is a better film than "American Beauty") nd if you haven't seen it, please make sure you do. On no accounts let is slip by you, or you'll miss the movie experience of a lifetime.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Seize the Day indeed...
"Dead Poets Society" is a remarkable film, and one that I simply cannot praise or recommend enough. Robin Williams plays Mr. Keating, a new teacher at a private boys school in 1959. His unorthodox teaching methods, designed to make his pupils more aware of the topics and to encourage them to open up to each other more, are viewed with apprehension and derision by his work colleagues but begin to leave an impression on each of his pupils. They soon go on to start a 'Dead Poets Society', in which they go into the woods at night and read poetry to each other. However, tragedy strikes and Keating's teaching is thought to be to blame by the other members of staff.
Amusing, compelling and often moving, "Dead Poets Society" is a wonderfully acted piece with a good young cast (including Ethan Hawke in an early role). Most exceptional of all is Robin Williams who plays his role of the inspirational leader to a group of people at a crossroads in their lives to absolute perfection, proving once and for all that not only is he one of the greatest comedy performers of all time, he is equally adept at playing it straight, and he certainly deserves to be recognised more for his talents.
If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you do, you won't be disappointed.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
There's few films like this one...
At last, an interesting story comes from Hollywood, with the added bonus of being the most original for a good long while. "Being John Malkovich" tells the story of puppeteer Craig Schwartz (the impeccable John Cusack) who discovers a tiny portal behind a filing cabinet at his new workplace which takes him on an amazing journey inside the head of John Malkovich, star of such films as "Empire of the Sun" (1987) and "Con Air" (1997). Exactly why it is Malkovich is anyone's guest, but Craig decides to share the experience with his girlfriend Lotte (Cameron Diaz looking totally unrecognisable) and sour work colleague Maxine (Catherine Keener). The latter hits upon the notion that there could be money in this discovery for herself and Craig and they set up their own business taking people inside the head of John Malkovich who, for a while at least, is unaware of what is going on inside his head.
Darkly humourous and ultimately quite touching, "Being John Malkovich" is one of the must-see films of 1999, and one you are unlikely to forget. The first time film-making duo of Spike Jonze (director) and Charlie Kaufman (screenwriter) have come up with a real gem and a film which surely deserved more recognition than it got on it's release.
Hey Arnold! (1994)
Up there with the best of them
"Hey Arnold" is certainly the best thing Nickelodeon have produced in a long time, probably since "The Adventures of Pete and Pete". At the time of writing, I am 16 years of age but I still enjoy "Hey Arnold" just as much as I used to. It hasn't worn at all with age, whereas another once splendid show - "The Simpsons" - is beginning to lose it's edge, despite once being the funniest thing on TV. "Hey Arnold" is still highly amusing and always carries a significant message for everyday life. If I'm feeling down, this extraordinary show always cheers me up. Definitely one for kids and adults alike, I'd recommend this gem of a cartoon to anyone.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
I can honestly say that Frank Darabont's "The Shawshank Redemption" is my favourite film of all time. It is simply perfect and it is criminal in my opinion that it missed out on so many Academy Awards in 1994.
Inspired direction from Mr. Darabont is complimented by superb performances from every member of the cast, which includes Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler and the menacing Clancy Brown.
Based upon a Stephen King novel, "The Shawshank Redemption" is the story of banker Andy DuFresne, imprisoned for the alleged murder of his wife and her lover. As life in prison begins to take it's toll, DuFresne (Robbins) befriends prison "fixer" Red (Freeman) who is understood to be 'a man who knows how to get things'. In truth, there isn't really a definitive storyline, the film merely chronicles the trials and tribulations experienced by DuFresne over his life imprisonment, during which time he becomes a financial advisor to the prison guards and makes friends in high places, although the Warden Norton (Gunton) has other plans for his talents.
A dynamic twist in the tale is the perfect finale to this exceptional film of which there is not a bad word to be said. The 2 hrs 17 mins simply flies by and by the end this magnificent story of courage, friendship, loyalty and ultimately hope will leave you feeling warm, extremely satisfied and ready for another viewing. A beautiful movie.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Every time a bell rings...
What can be said about this miraculous film that hasn't been said before? "It's A Wonderful Life" is one of the greatest films of all time and it isn't hard to understand why. It is the type of rare film that sticks with you forever, very much like a treasured childhood memory. The film tells the story of George Bailey, a bank manager who has fallen into serious financial trouble. A culmination of all the troubles in his life leads him to pray to the heavens and wish to have never been born. Unknown to him, of course, he is being watched from on high and an apprentice guardian angel named Clarence - yet to attain his wings - is sent down to guide him. Clarence makes George's wish come true and he soon discovers what a mistake he has just made. The film poses the question - What would have happened in the lives of everyone you knew if you could see the world without you ever existing? The film gives one possible - and daunting -answer to the question and George Bailey gets the chance to see the world without him ever being there.
"It's A Wonderful Life" is a truly magical film, there simply aren't enough superlatives to describe it. See for yourself if you haven't already, and experience a real gem of a film that will leave you with tears of joy rolling down your cheeks by the end. Superb.
The 'Burbs (1989)
One of my all time favourites...
I really cannot heap enough praise on "The 'Burbs", it is dark, witty, wonderfully acted and just downright hilarious. Having watched the film over and over, I seem to appreciate more each time, it is very engrossing. Despite the ravaging the critics gave it on it's release, I thoroughly recommend you watch this film if ever you get the opportunity and record it for repeated viewing.
"The 'Burbs" is set in the small suburb Hinkley Hills, a close-knit community consisting of various people with very different characteristics to one another. Tom Hanks ("Saving Private Ryan", "Forrest Gump") plays down-to-earth Ray Peterson who is becoming rather suspicious of his knew next-door neighbours, the mysterious and seldom seen Klopek's. After hearing strange noises coming from the Klopek's basement in the dead of night, other neighbours begin to sense that something is not quite right. Larger-than-life (literally) Art Weingartner (played by Rick Ducommun -"Groundhog Day"), Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern -"Small Soldiers") and young Ricky Butler (Corey Feldman - "The Goonies", "Stand By Me") all convince Ray to help them in their under-handed investigations into what exactly is going on at the Klopek residence.
The film is hilarious from start to finish (Dern and Ducommun deserve special praise for their comedic performances) and there is some inspired direction from Joe Dante ("Gremlins", "Small Soldiers") and the mood is established perfectly with a cracking score, "The 'Burbs" gets 10 out of 10 from me and is one of the best - if not THE best film of the '80's. Don't miss it.
The Shining (1980)
I have very mixed feelings when it comes to this film; some parts of it were wonderfully done, others just disappoint.
Stanley Kubrick has made a film (based on a wonderful Stephen King novel) that really terrifies the audience but still seems to fall a little flat. Indeed, there is something missing from "The Shining", a nucleus to the movie which could make it a real masterpiece although I'm hard pushed to say what exactly IS missing.
There is nothing wrong with the direction, quite on the contrary, this was hailed as one of Kubrick's best. He makes splendid use of the steadicam, this perhaps being the thing that springs to the mind when you think of "The Shining". He captures the cold and empty atmosphere of the Overlook Hotel as Winter closes in with immaculate efficiency and there are few who could claim hand on heart that this film didn't send a shiver down their spine or boast that they held no fear when young Danny Torrance first sees the two little girls in the hallway.
There is nothing really amiss with the casting of the film either, Jack Nicholson is probably the perfect choice for the role of Jack Torrance, the caretaker who gradually descends into madness due to a mixture of isolation and the sinister spirits that reside in the Overlook. The one gripe would be that it is quite obvious right from the start that he is going to go insane and that does detract from the climax of the film ever so slightly.
The character of Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) is portrayed very differently in the film to the character in the book, who was a very strong and determined woman. The Wendy Torrance of the film is on edge, fragile and spends most of the time screaming.
It just feels that the adapted screenplay lacks something and because of this the film doesn't really work to its full potential. Still, it's a terrifying couple of hours and it's definitely worth seeing.
Operation Good Guys (1997)
"Operation Good Guys" is one of the best British comedies for a long long time and yet it is still very much unknown to most people. In the form of a documentary, it follows the exploits of an inept police force who are filmed everyday by a BBC film crew. They get into some bizarre jams, ranging from a nightmare survival course with a huge bald racist hunter to helping the ageing Guv with his boxing career.
Surreal, brilliantly acted and the funniest thing on British television at this moment, "Operation Good Guys" is not to be missed!
Three Kings (1999)
"Three Kings" isn't like your ordinary run-of-the-mill action film; in fact, to even call it an action film would be unfair. The film's aim is not to show just how many explosions and car chases it can squeeze out of its budget, its aim is to show the politics of a modern war and the repercussions a war (in this instance the Gulf War) can have on the lives of those involved, and the film takes care to emphasise these points throughout.
George Clooney plays Archie Gates of Special Forces who leads a small group of soldiers to find a horde of gold hidden in one of Saddam's bunkers. However, all does not go to plan and they are caught up in a moral dilemma of sorts: Should they take the gold and be on their way, or should they help the desperate rebel prisoners who have fallen into Saddam's hands?
David O. Russel's direction is innovative and serves to enhance the film's message without detracting any from the entertainment value.
The casting of the film is particularly good and became the base of George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg's strong working relationship. Clooney shows with Three Kings (and not to forget Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight" in which he excelled) that he can choose a good movie from time to time after the unsuccessful "The Peacemaker" and the horror that was "Batman and Robin". Wahlberg added to his already growing reputation with his performance as Troy Barlow and there are surprisingly good performances from Ice Cube and fledgling director Spike Jonze of "Being John Malkovich" fame. Back this combination up with fine support from Mykelti Williamson ("Con Air, Forrest Gump") and Jamie Kennedy ("Scream", "Enemy of the State") and you have yourself a promising movie on paper. The thing about "Three Kings" is that it more than satisfies on screen, too. A gem of a film and one of the best of 1999.