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.
Stanley Kubrick, a legendary filmmaker of great renown, has been at the helm of some of cinema’s most well-known and iconic pictures; who can forget Lolita (1962), Spartacus (1960), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Full Metal Jacket (1987)? His resume reads like a greatest hits list, the multitude of his work being critically acclaimed and pioneering in their own right. Quite possibly my all-time favorite Kubrick flick, though, is the utter masterwork that is Paths of Glory. Set in WWI, the film’s focus involves the trial of three men accused of cowardice in the face of the enemy after a failed assault on the enemy German positions. Kirk Douglas, a personal favorite, plays the role of French Colonel Dax, a visceral portrayal of a man tasked with defending the accused soldiers, who all face death by firing squad. His character faces the daunting task of proving the unwavering character of his men, while facing the impossible brutality that was WWI.
The film itself is wrought with a tension befitting the backdrop of one of the world’s most brutal conflicts, with themes of honor, duty, nationalistic pride, greed, betrayal, family, and idealism laced tightly within. The stark realism on display in the raw and gritty set pieces and the intricately placed details add to the brilliant performances of the actors. The grand scale of the set captured the sheer scope and intensity of the conflict, and the dramatic, solemn tension vividly captured the perilous plight of the condemned men. An outstanding achievement in film from a director and cast known for their remarkable performances.
Check it out!
There’s nothing quite like the feel of the early classics; the attention to sharp dialogue (even if it was laced with gooey mozzarella), the richly layered intensity of the orchestral scores, and the overly dramatic stage-esque acting style combined with a precision lacking in so many of today’s films. I set my sights on Hell’s Angels this morning, the 1930 Howard Hughes masterwork. Hughes, the notorious perfectionist and eccentric in later life, directed and produced the piece at a cost of nearly 4 million dollars, which was the most expensive film production ever made at the time. But I have to say that the money was well spent; the attention to detail and the immensity and daring creativity of the aerial combat shots made for an exhilarating viewing.
The story tells the tale of two brothers, Roy and Monte Rutledge, (James Hall and Ben Lyon respectively), and their high flying exploits as pilots in Britain’s Royal Flying Corp during WWI. Austere Roy contrasted with Monte, who was quite the lecher (Monte joined the corp just to get a kiss from a girl at the recruiting post), but the two went on to serve in the conflict. Roy is deeply in love with Helen (played by Jean Harlow), who isn’t quite who she appears to be, but his love for her plays a pivotal role in the story. The production was originally filmed as a silent picture, but the advent of sound technology led the crew to re-shoot most of the movie using this new technique.
Nearly 100 WWI pilots were brought in to fly the planes, with three of them crashing and dying during the filming. The film makes use of groundbreaking aerial camera work and features some of the most thrilling scenes of mock aerial combat filmed; the extent of the scenes is truly remarkable for the era, as quality WWI dogfights are a rarity. Had the film been made today, 90% of it would have been done with CGI, so it’s great to watch a picture with real guts and mechanics. An exciting film done in the old, big Hollywood style, it’s definitely worth a watch even if you’re not a fan of old war movies. If you are, you’d better get on it ASAP.
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 arts, 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.
Danger infested jungle? Check. Damsel in distress? You know it. Stylized heroes and cringe worthy villains? Absolutely. These and many other tried and true cinematic cliches are proudly on display in 1939’s Five Came Back, an archetypal RKO Radio Pictures disaster story said to be the forefather of the now popular genre. And as you can guess from the not so subtle title, Five Came Back. But who? The story revolves around the events of a plane crash; en route to Panama, a plane goes down in a fierce storm and plunges violently through the thick canopy of the Amazon jungle. When the plane crashes, all aboard are left to scratch about and fend for survival in the jungle, with the usual love and drama and intrigue craftily interwoven. Relationships bud and dwindle under the jungle sun, and the heroes struggle in earnest to repair the downed jet.
Once there, the story begins to flesh out the individual stories of the intriguing cargo of nine characters, including a beautiful woman with a sketchy reputation, a gangster and his young nephew, an elderly married couple, a convicted anarchist and his handler, and a young couple eloping. And as time passes, each of them must endure their own personal setbacks and triumphs as they attempt to clear a path through the brush and repair the damaged aircraft.
Being an RKO Radio Pictures production, it’s considered somewhat of a B movie, however it plays like a solid blockbuster. Although handily cheesy at times, the plot plays out quite smoothly, the acting is up to par, you really learn to care about the fate of the characters and root for their survival, and the action builds and develops with intensity.
Featuring great early performances by Lucille Ball, Chester Morris, and Kent Taylor, Five Came Back is a must watch for any film aficionado. Check it out!
Anyone who knows me knows that I have somewhat of a longstanding zombie film appreciation. It was an addiction born of pure fear. As a kid, I was terrified of those slimy, grimy, stumbling dead bastards; scared shitless, actually. And, oddly enough, I loved every second of it. There was something strangely exciting about the way they shambled around, all haphazard, in search of juicy, warm flesh. My brothers would tease me with the now classic Night of the Living Dead line, “They’re coming to get you Barbaraaaaa”, and I despised and loved it at the same time. What scared me the most was that I just couldn’t wrap my young head around a specific reason as to why they did what they did. It made absolutely no rational sense, which was incredibly intriguing. As if the whole ‘you’re dead, and dead things are not supposed to be walking’ thing wasn’t bad enough, you want to fucking eat me too? Why? What the hell did I ever do to you? The concept of scattered bands of corpses roaming the land fiending to feed on the living…it was unfathomable…and if it did happen, what the hell would we do? That was some thrilling, exciting, white knuckle fear. I devised elaborate escape and survival plans, and pondered myself to sleep at night creating imaginary bunkers and caches of supplies in my mind. I just knew that if that shit went down, I’d be ready. I just knew that in the massive chaos of the zombie uprising, I’d be fully prepared. It became fun.
The original Night of the Living Dead was the first zombie flick that I saw, and it remains a classic to this day. It was a surprisingly multilayered script with a smattering of subtle political undertones, an interesting crop of characters/survivors weaved in, and a gang of remarkably spooky zombies, given the fact that it was made in 1968. It even had a non stereotypical black heroic lead, which was a rarity during that era.
The 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake was solid, but not nearly as good. For much of the 90’s, zombies fell into a sort of comedic, overly campy slump, and the genre was subjected to horribly cheesy renditions and awfully scripted C movie fare. Google ‘zombie movies’, and a gaggle of generic titles pop up, each one dumber than the last.
In my opinion, they sucked right up until 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, which breathed new life into the format. It was a breath of fresh air, really, to see them chowing down with quality vigor again.
Too long had zombies suffered under the muck of bad scrips and even worse acting; too long had they been buried under the weight of cheese and camp. That 2004 remake set the tone and laid the groundwork for The Walking Dead, which has shuffled its way into millions of homes, becoming one of the most watched cable shows currently on TV. An excellent script, based on the comic of the same name, has reinvigorated zombie cinema, and given it a much needed dose of credibility.
The whole zombie thing is an official phenomenon now, with zombie walks, zombie memorabilia, zombie everything readily available now, which is a huge turnaround from the veritable shunning that it received prior to 2004. It’s a great thing, if you’re a fan. But hey, I was a fan long before the horde of newcomers bit into their first zombie experience, and when the shit comes down to the wire, I’ll be ready and waiting!
Hollywood screwed up on this one (as it usually does); Tim Roth was the MAN in 1996. Rob Roy was his diamond encrusted role of a lifetime (unless you consider his role as Ted the Bellhop in the hilarious 1995 comedy ‘Four Rooms’), and the guy was literally on point from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong, Liam Neeson did a stand up job as 18th century brigand Robert Roy MacGregor, but you literally end up hating Tim Roth by the end of the movie. I didn’t just hate Tim Roth’s villainously villainous villain Archibald Cunningham, I hated Tim Roth the actor. It was that effective. I hated him, and I hated his face. That’s how you know a guy has nailed the role to a wall. The calm, yet deceptively evil crooked grin, the ease at which he dispatched and outwitted his enemies, and the ruthlessness at which he exacted his hatred were incredibly and deliciously detestable. Which, in all honesty, makes you love the crap out of his performance. The awesomeness of his abilities didn’t go unnoticed by the powers that be, as he was nominated for an Oscar in 1996, but somehow lost to Kevin Spacey (who surprisingly won for his role as Verbal Kint in ‘The Usual Suspects‘). But let me tell you, the dude was robbed. I could go on and on, but watch this action and judge the coldheartedness for yourself.
I first caught a glimpse of this gem in the eighth grade, and it was just as poignant back then as it is now. The boiling tension surrounding the murder trial of a young kid, twelve opinionated voices attempting to reach a unanimous conclusion, and the strength and simplicity of the story that empowered it creates an electricity that keeps it relevant. They don’t make them like they used to! Check it out if you haven’t done so already.
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 Tom Hanks. Most of the movie involved Tom Hanks 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 continuing a successful adult life, or reverting back to the 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 best decision 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 floating 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.
Listen in on the latest episode of Media Rewind as Dustin and I discuss the testosterone infused action fest that is ‘The Expendables’!