Tuesday, 26 March 2013
Director: Frank Darabont
"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. That was my first impression of the man." Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding
Synopsis: A young banker is convicted of a double homicide and sent to prison for life. It turns out he had to go to prison to become a crook.
The Shawshank Redemption is number one on the IMDB Top 250 list. And there is a very good reason why. It is a damn good film. Released back in 1994, and based on a Stephen King story (Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption) it follows the stories of a few inmates of Shawshank Prison who find friendship and have their lives changed over the few years that they are imprisoned there.
Tim Robbins portrays Andy Dufresne, a mild mannered stock broker, imprisoned for killing his wife and her lover, after finding them in bed together. As the prosecuting attorney says at the beginning of the film, "A revolver holds six bullets, not eight. I submit that this was not a hot-blooded crime of passion. That, at least, could be understood if not condoned. No - this was revenge of a much more brutal and cold blooded nature. Consider this. Four bullets per victim. Not six shots fired but eight. That means that he fired the gun empty and then stopped to reload so that he could shoot each of them again. An extra bullet per lover, right in the head," Andy Dufresne seems to be a cold-hearted killer. But you are never really sure throughout the duration of the film as to whether he actually did it.
Tim Robbins does a very good job of the quiet, hands-in-pockets, minding-my-own-business character, which develops into a full blown entrepreneur towards the end of the film, doing the guards and warden's tax returns and putting a few of the inmates through high school.
Morgan Freeman plays Ellis Boyd Redding, AKA Red, the inmate that every prison has. He is the inmate who can get things for you which are illegal on the inside: sipping whiskey, playing cards with naked ladies on them or a cigar to share to celebrate the birth of your child. He and Robbins' character become good friends throughout the course of the film. Andy: "Why do they call you Red?" Red: "Maybe it's because I'm Irish..."
Another notable character from the film is Guard Captain Byron Hadley played by Clancy Brown ("Step back, boys, this motherf****r's about to have an accident!") Colourful dialogue aside, he plays a mean brute of a guard who takes no nonsense, easily dishing out punishment with his billy club to inmates who do not toe the line.
Bob Gunton (also known for his role as the police chief in Demolition Man) plays the prison warden, Samuel Norton. Firm and strict, he gives the standard speech to the inmates upon arrival at the prison that if they keep their noses clean and stay in line, all will go well for their time behind bars. If they don't, see Captain Hadley. Norton was also not unaccustomed to shady underhanded deals, hiring his inmates out for cheap labour and pocketing the profits for himself.
Other notable performances come from William Hadley and Gil Bellows. Hadley plays Heywood, another of the members of Tim Robbins group of friends. While making an inventory of books for the newly commissioned library, Hadley finds "The Count of Monte Christo" by Alexandre Dumas. "'The Count of Monte Christo' by Alexander Dum.. Duma.. Dumass. Hehe.. Alexander Dumbass..." Robbins character informs him the book is an adventure novel about a prison break and should be filed under adventure, to which Hadley's character responds "Shouldn't that go under educational?" Loved that scene!
Gil Bellows plays a young cocky inmate who was arrested for theft and breaking and entering. It turns out later in the film he has information about an inmate he was bunked with in another prison who described a murder that sounded exactly like the murder Tim Robbins was imprisoned for.
I love the way the story is told in this film, from the character development to the surprise reveal at the end of the film. Although this film is based on a Stephen King short story, it's not your usual blood and gore violent roller coaster ride. It's a sit-down-and-think-about-it-a-bit film, a film to enjoy on a Saturday afternoon with some popcorn. It has a lovely heartwarming ending, with those who deserve it getting what they deserve. As mentioned, The Shawshank Redemption is at the top of the IMDB Top 250 films list, and it deserves to stay there.
Favourite scene: Andy Dufresne receives a donated box of books and records; he plays Canzonetta sull'aria" from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" over the PA system of the prison. He winds up having two weeks in solitary confinement for this stunt, but he feels it was worth it. View the clip here.
My rating: 9.5 out of 10.
The Shawshank Redemption should be available from all good DVD and BluRay retail stores. If you haven't seen it, get it and watch it. A must for any DVD collection.
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Director: Irvin Kershner
"The Force is with you, young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet..." Darth Vader
Synopsis: After the victory over the Galactic Empire at the battle of Yavin, the Rebels are pursued across the galaxy, while Darth Vader continues his search for Luke Skywalker, in an attempt to bring him over to the Dark Side.
And now, we come to one of my childhood and current favourites, a film that I will always regard highly, and a film that should never be remade, as it will always stand the test of time. This is a film that I can easily watch over and over again, a film that got me interested in science fiction and fantasy. I can pretty much quote every line from this film from start to finish, even doing Yoda's voice when the occasion calls for it.
The opening scrawl disappears from the screen, and an immense Imperial Star Destroyer passes by, long distance remote probes being launched from its belly cargo bay. Being a home theatre nut as I am, this opening sequence is always played very loudly, much to my wife's dismay. But, c'mon! The sound of those probes flying past in 5.1 high definition surround sound? It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end!
Enter the icy world of Hoth. According to The Empire of Dreams documentary, the planet of Hoth was filmed in Norway in the middle of winter. The scene with Luke walking away from the "ice creature" had Mark Hamill in his costume walking away from the camera, with the camera crew safely warm inside the entrance to the hotel they were staying in. A blizzard had moved in, which made a perfect setting for the distressing situation that Luke was getting into, but not very nice conditions for filming.
Another development I liked from this film, which set it apart from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, was that Darth Vader (portrayed by David Prowse, voice by James Earl Jones) became a much more menacing, evil and integral part of the story. In A New Hope he was there, (his background story not yet having been revealed) but always seemed to be just another pawn, one of Governor Tarkin's lackeys. In Empire, it's almost as though the character came into his own, and was the leader of the Imperial forces. "You have failed me for the last time, Admiral. Captain Piett, make ready to land our troops beyond their energy field, and deploy the fleet, so that nothing gets off the system. You are in command now, Admiral Piett."
James Earl Jones voiced the character again perfectly, adding menace and malevolence to the character. David Prowse, who played the man in the suit, learned and spoke all of Darth Vader's lines throughout the production, so the other actors had something to play off, but did not have the heavy bass in his voice to be menacing enough. Jones pulled this off beautifully in post production.
Harrison Ford returns to play Han Solo, the smuggler who decides to do the right thing. A love interest develops between him and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) throughout this film "You like me because I'm a scoundrel" which leaves you heart-broken at the end of the carbon-freeze chamber scene. Harrison Ford actually suggested to George Lucas during the review of the script that Han Solo should die, to bring more drama to the story.
Frank Oz pulled a rabbit out of a hat, (or rather put a hand up a muppets jacksy - "Ooh, tickles, that does") to bring one of the most memorable characters to the Star Wars universe. Most of the main story line of Empire revolves around the character of Yoda, a 3 foot tall puppet, voiced and controlled by Frank Oz. His performance of this character made Yoda so believable, often times in filming, Mark Hamill, and Irvin Kershner would look at Yoda and talk directly to "him" when trying to give Frank Oz instructions. The backwards speaking Jedi Master guides Luke through the initial stages of his Jedi training, constantly warning Luke of the dangers of straying from the path of good. "Anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side are they..."
For the majority of the filming, Mark Hamill was the only actor on the daily call sheet, only to be surrounded by set pieces and props, lizards, snakes and smoke. Hamill pulled off playing against a puppet wonderfully. And Frank Oz did a brilliant performance with the voice of Yoda; the only other voice in film history that comes close to Yoda is Andy Serkis' performance of Gollum from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. But more on that later.
We also see the introduction of a new character, Lando Calrissian, (portayed by Billy Dee Williams) the owner and administrator, (and also a bit of a smooth talking ladies man scoundrel) of Cloud City, on the planet Bespin. Han, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Leia, and the two droids, C3PO and R2D2 (Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker) seek refuge from Vader's pursuing forces on Cloud City, only to fall directly into a trap set by Vader himself, in an attempt to lure Luke Skywalker, capture him and turn him to the Dark Side. The trap works, sort of, as Luke abandons his Jedi training, much to the dismay of Yoda and the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and goes in search of his friends, learns about his true parentage and loses a hand in the process.
The ending of this film leaves you wanting more. Much more. One of the main characters has been taken by a bounty hunter, another main character is torn between what he has been told by his old mentor and the truth. Luke and Leia gaze out the window of the Mon Calamari star cruiser as the Millennium Falcon piloted by Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca launches in search of Han Solo.
A great addition to this film is the music soundtrack, composed by John Williams, and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. A dramatic piece is introduced for the introduction of the Imperial Fleet and Darth Vader. A soft, gentle piece is introduced for the appearance of Yoda. The final piece of music that plays over the last scene (titled The Rebel Fleet on the soundtrack) has a beautifully sad or lacrimoso quality to it, with the main piece of music made up of violins and horns. All in all, a good soundtrack to have if you like movie themed music.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, if a project has enough money, the end result will turn out well. In 1978/79 when production started on The Empire Strikes Back the budget given was pretty big for those days, and the film turned out to be a great success. What makes this film stand out for me is that compared with most films released today, it still compares. The special effects, the story line and the acting was all very good, and there was a very high attention to detail. The sale of LucasFilm to Disney studios and the announcement of Star Wars Episode VII came as a great surprise to me. According to IMDB, Harrison Ford has already signed on to reprise his role as Han Solo, and talks are in progress to enlist Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, with the finished product expected to be released in 2015.
My children will one day be brought up on the Star Wars films. And hopefully their children will be too.
Favourite scene: The Rebels are escaping from the planet Hoth, and the ion cannon fires several shots to make sure any enemy ships are out of the transport ships flight paths. "Stand by, ion control... Fire!”
My rating: 9.5 out of 10
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back should be available on BluRay and DVD in a box set with the other five Star Wars movies from all good DVD retailers.
Wednesday, 6 March 2013
Stars: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Olivier Rabourdin
Director: Pierre Morel
"I don't know who you are, but if you don't let my daughter go, I will find you. I will kill you." Bryan Mills
Synopsis: A retired CIA agents daughter is kidnapped while on holiday in Paris. He uses all of his skills to find her and bring her home.
I saw the trailer for this film in the cinema before it came out in 2008, and I thought "Meh... Liam Neeson as an action star? Skip this one." But oh my goodness, he does quite a good job! I only bought and watched this film recently, but it's a good one to watch if you want to see the bad guys getting their asses kicked, with the good guys not even breaking a sweat while doing it.
This film focuses on the rather scary (and true) issue of human trafficking. I don't want to give away too much of the story if you haven't seen it yet (if you haven't, stop reading now!)
Kim, (Maggie Grace) and a friend go to Paris to follow U2 on the starting leg of a European tour. They share a taxi with a local from the airport to the apartments where they will be staying. The local turns out to be a spotter, looking for attractive young girls. A quick phone call from the spotter, and ten minutes later, kidnappers break in into the apartment. Kim, on the phone with her father, (Liam Neeson) sees the kidnappers coming. She tells her father, and is told to hide under the bed, leave the phone when she gets dragged out, and to shout out any characteristics of the kidnappers that she can see. The one of the kidnappers finds the phone. Neeson, still on the other end, threatens that he will find and kill them, to which the kidnapper replies "Good luck."
The girls are not taken hostage for ransom though - a band of Albanian human traffickers kidnap young women, get them hooked on drugs, and turn them into prostitutes on street corners, or sell them off to the highest bidder.
Liam Neeson finds out who the Albanians are, and is told he has about 72 hours to find her before his daughter disappears forever. He manages to track down the Albanian's to their hideout, and a rollercoaster ride of gunfights, knife fights, fist fights and car chases ensues.
I loved how Liam Neeson's character stays calm throughout the entire film. Even when he is trying to fend off a knife attack from one of the heavies, there is no anger, just cold, calculating glancing blows and counter-blows. He comes across as being believable in his ex-CIA agent role.
I enjoyed the fast paced action, and Liam Neeson's "no holds barred" approach to handling things, or who he upsets (the spineless unhelpful police inspector, played by Olivier Rabourdin, who only wants to put Neeson back on a plane to the United States).
All in all, a good action film, a must see, even if you don't want to own it.
Favourite scene: Liam Neeson posing as a police officer, supposedly shaking down the Albanians for more bribe money, while he is actually sizing them up. "An Albanian friend gave me this message. Could you read it for me please?"
View the trailer here
My rating: 7/10
Taken should be available from all good DVD retailers.
Monday, 4 March 2013
Director: Joss Whedon
"There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could." - Nick Fury
Synopsis: A group of superheroes are brought together by S.H.I.E.L.D. to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.
Sequels and spin-offs to popular franchises rarely work. Take Predator 2 for example. Made about 3 years after the original, Arnold Schwarzenegger said in his biography that it was made for around the same budget as the original, and it fell flat. He feels that if they had doubled the budget, it would have been more popular than the original, he would have starred in it and it would have done better at the box office. But they didn't, it wasn't, he didn't and it didn't. For The Avengers, Paramount Pictures and Marvel threw enough money at the project to make it very good.
The film takes place a few months after the events of Iron Man 2, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and Thor. The Tesseract, found by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) at the end of Captain America is activated while in a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. test facility, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) comes to Earth in preparation for the Chitauri invasion force. In seeing the trailer for this film, I was glad to see the original actors reprising their roles from the original films, although a bit disappointed to see that Edward Norton did not return due to contract issues.
Robert Downey Jr. performs his usual sarcastic tongue-in-cheek role of Tony Stark to a T. Chris Evans returns in his role of Captain America, a bit bewildered by everything that has changed in the 70 years he was frozen although I was glad that the director decided not to go into too much detail. There is deleted scene on the DVD and BluRay edition that shows Steve Rogers visiting his Captain America love interest Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell), who is now in her late 70's. Chris Hemsworth is enjoyable again in his role as Thor. Mark Ruffalo has taken over the role of Dr Bruce Banner, AKA The Hulk quite well, portraying the brilliant scientist with extreme anger management issues. A bit of a surprise character and role change is Cobie Smulders, (usually seen as Robin Sherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother) who plays Nick Fury's second in command, Agent Maria Hill. Smulders has turned out to be feisty, good with a handgun and dishing out orders.
The action in this film barely lets up. But Joss Whedon has done very well at balancing the action and dramatic scenes. He is also no stranger to science fiction, with his Firefly TV show and follow up movie Serenity having a very big cult following. As most of his TV shows get cancelled, (except for Buffy and Angel) its nice to see Whedon moving up in the world.
This film is all I could have hoped for and more. The special effects are fantastic, the story line is very good, and there is a good balance between humour (one-liners like Scarlet Johansson's "I don't see how that's a party..") and drama throughout the film. A sequel, written and directed by Joss Whedon is scheduled for release May the 1st, 2015.
Favourite scene: The Hulk has just single-handedly taken out a flying Chitauri troop transport creature; the Chitauri invasion force realise The Avengers are a force to be reckoned with: "That's my secret, Cap, I'm always angry..."
Note: Watch out for the teaser for a sequel at the end of the initial credits, and the restaurant scene at the end of the credits!
My rating: 8.5 / 10
The Avengers is available on DVD and BluRay at all major DVD stockists.
Saturday, 23 February 2013
Director: Steven Spielberg
"Slow ahead." I can go slow ahead, come on down here and chum some of this shit! - Chief Brody
Synopsis: A large great white shark terrorises a small island holiday community. The chief of police enlists the help of a marine biologist and experienced fisherman to catch and kill the shark.
Although maybe a little dated now, and other films have come out with more realistic sharks (Deep Blue Sea), no shark film has brought back the terror of not wanting to swim in the ocean since the original Jaws. Deep Blue Sea also revolved around dangerous great white sharks, but it was set in a remote research facility in the middle of the ocean. Jaws brought the action, and terror, right to the beach. Young children running and playing on the sand, families playing in the water, young boys tossing a football back and forth. Little do these people know that just below the surface of the water, a 20 footer (no, 25 footer) is lurking, waiting for an unsuspecting bather to wade too close. Unfortunately, that bather turns out to be Alex Kitner, and the rubber raft he was floating on washes up on the shore a few moments later, a large section of the raft bitten off.
I first saw Jaws when I was about seven years old. I still enjoy watching it today, and can quote most of the lines from the film. I recently found the clip on Youtube of Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) chumming the water behind Captain Quint's (Robert Shaw) boat the Orca. That scene still brings the hairs up on the back of my neck! Scheiders' reaction makes me wonder if Steven Spielberg told him that the shark would burst out of the water like that - if not, he was a very good actor! His famous comment "You're gonna need a bigger boat..." has gone on through generations, not only relating to this film, but also in most cases of daily life where someone has an insurmountable problem.
I bought the 25th anniversary edition on DVD a few years ago, and was pleased to see quite a lot of interviews with some of the cast members and Steven Spielberg. The shark used in the film was mechanical, covered with foam rubber, painted to look like a great white. A filming technique I really liked was that even though the Orca was never more than a few miles off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, where filming took place, the shots were always filmed with the cameras pointing out to sea, to make us believe they were in the middle of nowhere. The intensity of the drama never really lets up either. Quint's eerie retelling of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis adds additional suspense to the after dinner scene, and just as you think things are about to quiet down, the shark rams the boat, causing a breach in the hull, which in turn starts the problems they experience in trying to get back to shore.
Richard Dreyfuss plays the part of Matt Hooper, the plucky marine biologist who tries to analyse and photographs the shark as it circles the boat. In trying to take photographs of the shark, he asks Chief Brody to go to the end of the gangplank on the front of the Orca - "Will you go to the end of the pulpit please? I need something in the foreground to give it some scale!"
"Foreground, my ass!" replies Chief Brody, as he doesn't want to fall off the cramped deck.
Matt Hooper's attempt to poison the shark with a shark dart from an aluminium divers cage does not end well, the cage in which he is lowered over the side of the boat taking the majority of the brunt of the shark's attack, and luckily, Hooper manages to escape and hide, while the shark continues its attack on the boat.
Adding to all this action and suspense is the brilliant musical score composed by John Williams; a haunting main overture indicating the shark's arrival, and a spectacular chase and action theme overlaying the intense and suspenseful parts of the movie.
In my opinion, definitely a film to watch over again, and if you haven't seen it, I recommend either renting the DVD or checking your local TV listings to see if its showing. Overall rating 7/10.
Jaws should be available from most good DVD retailers.
Thursday, 21 February 2013
Synopsis: A concerned John McClane travels to Russia to find and help his seemingly wayward son, only to reveal his son is an undercover CIA agent attempting to uncover a nuclear arms deal.
Bruce Willis is getting old, and it is starting to show in this movie. The story was pretty reasonable, and the action, albeit a little far-fetched in places (John McClane driving a Mercedes G-Wagon across the roofs of cars in pursuit of the bad guys) was in my opinion keeping up with the gunfights and explosions we're used to in the past 25 years of Die Hard movies.
The producers seem to have returned to the no holds barred violence, the blood and guts and language that the first film had. As a result, this film has gone back to a 16LV age restriction. Quite a few "Die Hard" one-liners have returned as well, and true Die Hard fans will be pleased to hear that "Yippie ki yay, motherf***er" is back.
Bruce Willis still performs quite well in his lead role, but I feel he was a bit overshadowed by his son, Jack McClane, portrayed by Jai Courtney. Being an undercover CIA agent, he has all the fighting and guns skills one would come to expect from years of training in the United States secret service, although he is no Jason Bourne. Sebastian Koch plays the role of Yuri Komarov, a previous nuclear expert working at Chernobyl, imprisoned by corrupt government official Viktor Chagarin (portrayed by Sergei Kolesnikov) who is demanding the handover of top secret files which can incriminate Chagarin. The alternative is an unfair trial for Komarov, who chooses to testify against Chagarin. Also along for the ride is Yuri Komarov's daughter, Irina, played by Yahiya Snigir who is used as bait to lure Komarov into revealing the location of the hidden files.
It was nice to see a decent action film again. John McClane rebuilds his relationship with his wayward son, much like Indiana and Henry Jones from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I liked how McClane toyed with his sons pride after the bad guys escaped: "Yeah, lets just put a Bandaid on, go home and let them get away with it." There is a reference to McClane's antics from the first Die Hard; his son jokingly commenting he could have also wiped out a whole building full of terrorists.
All in all, it was an entertaining romp, good to rewatch on a Saturday afternoon with some popcorn. Overall I rate the film 6/10.
A Good Day To Die Hard is now showing in cinemas countrywide
View the trailer here.