In an era dominated by testosterone, big muscles, bigger guns, and the ever present and ultra macho Alpha Male phenomenon, the idea of a female lead in an action role was not just uncommon, but was largely unheard of. Guys like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Van Damme ruled the box office with their manly mix of tough cop roles, cheesy one liners, and improbable shoot outs; for a female to suit up into a stereotypical male lead ‘hero’ role, in that era, was remarkable. Ellen Ripley, the Warrant Officer on the Nostromo (effectively played by Sigourney Weaver) in the original 1979 film, was a true bad ass.
Everything about Ripley was atypical for a hero lead; she wasn’t bulging with pecs and biceps, she wasn’t trained in any sort of martial art, there were no Matrix style slow mo flip kicks, she didn’t dish out one liners like candy, and she obviously wasn’t a dude.
She did, however, possess an uncommon resilience in the face of unthinkable carnage (standing toe to toe with a dinosaur sized mother alien was pretty damned awesome), and courage that rivaled any character that Stallone or Arnold ever played. Her secret weapon? Her intellect. She outsmarted her alien rivals with true cunning. Who knows, Ripley vs. Rambo may have been a decent duel. At any rate, Sigourney Weaver made that role her own (a role that was originally written for a man); she beat the shit out of gnarly aliens across space and time, and in my eyes, is one bad ass Legendary Hero for doing it.
Period films are often challenging ordeals. Many factors come into play when transferring a fact based story to the big screen, from costumes, to historical accuracy, to the ever-present “will anyone pay to watch this” dilemma. The American Civil War stands among the pivotal moments in our nation’s history, so it stands as no surprise that there have been a plethora of flicks based on that time period made over the years, from the infamous Birth of a Nation in 1915, the legendary Gone with the Wind, and 2003’s Gods and Generals.
It was 1989 when a powerful gem named Glory was released into theaters, chronicling the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all black regiment mustered in 1863. Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie featured some serious star power in Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Cary Elwes, and a host of recognizable faces. Incorporating a triumphant score by James Horner, the film succeeds in painting a multi-layered picture of the trials and hurdles that had to be overcome by black and white troops in the Union Army following the Emancipation Proclamation passed into law by President Lincoln.
The film carefully creates a vivid portrait of the main characters, with the simmering tensions of the war serving as a commanding backdrop. I remember getting misty-eyed in the theaters when I saw this film as a kid, and the message that it conveys holds true today. Definitely worth a watch.
So if you’ve ever perused this blog, you’ll by now be made aware of the fact that I am a massive fan of foreign films, be they good or bad. I’m fascinated by the similarities and differences of American versus Foreign, and how the blending of the various cultures can often create an overall appealing movie. People are generally the same from continent to continent; the same gripes, hopes, dreams, and setbacks. But the subtle cultural differences seem to pop creatively on film. My latest pick is a bad boy out of South Korea titled “A Better Tomorrow”, which is a 2010 remake of the original 1986 Hong Kong classic that featured shoot ’em up action titan Yun-Fat Chow. In short, the film centers around two brothers, separated at a young age, that end up re-connecting years down the road. One brother chose the police force and the other followed a life of crime, so we can predict the inevitable clashes that arise with that; in addition, we have the usual double crossing bad guy that you end up hating by the end of the movie. While I’m generally opposed to remakes and ‘re-imaginings’, this is a solid version of a true gem.
Below, the horribly dubbed original:
In honor of the upcoming re-release of legendary director Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice, here are a few short videos (and selected trailers) worth your time. Enjoy.
Below are The Sacrifice and Stalker trailers, and excerpts from interviews with Tarkovsky regarding perspectives on life, youth, and artistic spirituality.
The year was 1988. I’d spent countless hours begging my mother incessantly in that desperate, nine year old beggary voice…begging for the chance to see Big in the theaters. I went so far as to cut the picture of it from the film section of the newspaper (it was a big, goofy picture of Tom Hank’s face), and I’d carry it around and show her with the hope of annoying her into taking me to see it. When she finally did, I loved it then and for many years to come. I’ve seen the film about 786 times to date, but seeing it again recently after a very long while opened my eyes to a few key elements that a nine year olds eyes will never see. The main character, Josh Baskin, wished “to be big”; he got his wish, and woke up one morning looking like grown up Tom Hanks. Most of the movie involved Tom acting like he was twelve, but what I hadn’t noticed before was the emphasis on choices. I had no idea that the movie was so complex; taken apart, it had some very deep inner workings.
As an adult, the kid found great success working at MacMillan Toys, great love with Susan (the love interest), and a maturity that most twelve year olds don’t possess. He also earned a pretty powerful conundrum that most kids don’t have to endure; having to choose between prematurely continuing a successful adult life, or reverting back to the comforting reality of his youth. In my opinion, the most powerful scene in the film was when he went back home, in adult form, and witnessed firsthand what he had, and ultimately would, miss out on if he chose the adult path. The ‘innocence’ of youth; friends, games, and family stared him in the face, and either decision that he made was bound to hurt someone. It showed that life revolves around choices, great or minor, and how ultimately, you have to make the decision that’s best for you.
He followed his heart and went back to his family and his young self in the end, but his decision to do so was embedded in my head for a few days after I’d watched the movie. So many of us in life, when confronted with great decisions, freeze up from indecision, and rather than formulate a well-calculated battle plan, we end up making none and float through life under the mercy of fate. It takes incredible character to exert the power of choice, despite the odds. Hey, if the kid in the film was able to make a sound decision that would affect the lives of everyone around him, then we should all be able to, right? Twenty-eight years after seeing Big, I finally got a sense of the soul of the movie; follow your heart, and you can’t go wrong. It’s never too late to learn that message.
Have you ever seen a movie six thousand times, but only gotten half a whiff of the real depth of that movie after the most recent viewing? Case in point; I’ve seen Joe Versus the Volcano at least 30 times since 1990, but only recently came to understand the immense truths contained within it. The film was always on in the background, and I’d often half ass watched it without really seeing it for what it was. The realization and understanding came slowly; a little bit here, a little bit there, until one day I said “fuck it” and sat down and really watched the film again for the first time. I took it all in with a renewed sense of awareness, and a considerably open mind. I dissected it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d enjoyed the movie time and again previously, but I’d only just seen the surface of it. And in truth, I was sincerely blown away. For all of its cheese, the movie was an acutely effective, multi-layered glimpse into a man’s thirst for knowledge, meaning, purpose, and self discovery. Looking beyond some of the dated, clunky 90’s camp, it’s quite a deeply rendered portrait of the journey that we all endure in order to accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish with our lives. It is a great little tale about overcoming obstacles, standing up for your beliefs, and never giving up. Who can’t relate to that, right? And if you’ve ever hated your job, the “I quit” scene below is a revelation.
In honor of its limited theatrical re-release, I am duty bound to share my appreciation of this cinematic gem. If you’re lucky enough to catch this one, please do. It’s a journey that you won’t regret. Thanks for reading…good day to all!
I’d fallen asleep on the sofa in front the TV one Friday night (years ago) and awoke on Saturday morning to this mysteriously surreal little Russian gem, a dreamy, thought provoking tale guaranteed to drum up a few intelligent discussions about man’s quest for knowledge and his insatiable hunger for the unknown. Directed by legendary filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and adapted from the novel Roadside Picnic, it deftly explores the depth of human want and need and desire, and trails the journey of a Stalker (a hired guide) and the two men who call upon his expertise to lead them into the gritty bowels of “The Zone”. It is there that they intend to enter the fabled room within the ruins of The Zone that enables any wish to come true. The journey is not without its trials though. To gain entry into The Zone (a deserted city that fell victim to a mysterious incident), they must first bypass a thickly guarded military checkpoint; but the true challenge is navigating the desolation of The Zone itself, an entirely barren, ever changing landscape full of unseen and unbeknownst dangers that have tested the will, searched the souls, and claimed the lives of countless Stalkers and wish seekers.
A beautifully minimalist film, shot in unfortunately toxic, abandoned Russian industrial locations, is said to have contributed to the early cancerous deaths of several cast and crew, including the director Tarkovsky. But the often several minutes long takes, the haunting landscapes, the telling score, and the philosophically rich dialogue combine for a journey that will not soon be forgotten.