Animal Farm (1954): Joy Batchelor and John Halas directed this animated adaptation to the novel from George Orwell. As you might guess, this takes place at a farm. The animals are not very happy about the treatment they are given and successfully revolt against the farmers. After finally being on their own, they have their own tyranny among themselves when the pigs appear to be starting their own regime for themselves causing their own infighting. This might be the first more adult oriented animation movie despite having animation to look like a disney film. This is a statement against the Totalitarianism from Stalin.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007): Andrew Dominik directed this film based on the novel by Ron Hansen. I believe this one to be a rather misunderstood film. Some when they hear the name Jesse James, they automatically think western and then either they don't like westerns or it was not enough of one. I believe this to be more of a drama and character study more than anything. This mostly focuses on the relationship between Jesse James and Bob Ford from when Ford joins the James Gang up to his life after he kills Jesse. The title already gives away that particular part and anyone that has any history knowledge usually knows what happened. Many movies on Jesse James portray him as an outlaw but as a Robin Hood figure but this one is different. This shows how the heroism of Jesse James is surrounded by the hype on articles and dime novels that people write. Casey Affleck stars as Bob Ford who has always idolized Jesse James, played by Brad Pitt, and when he finally joins he begins to realize that Jesse is not the man portrayed in novels and is really very ruthless and a cold-blooded killer. Sam Shepard has a part in the beginning as Frank James who is at the end of his life of crime and leaves around the time Ford joins. Mary-Louise Parker, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Schneider, Alison Elliot, Zooey Deschanel, and many others co-star in this film. This is a movie in my opinion that works on every level. Affleck was phenomenal as Bob Ford and Pitt also does a great job as Jesse James. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is beautiful. Even the narration and the music score by Nick Cave comes in at the absolute right times. In many ways, this is a story of the disappointment that one might have when meeting their idols. If you are looking for some action packed western, then find another Jesse James movie but if you are looking for a more realistic interpretation, this is it. This movie is both compelling and beautiful in so many ways.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976): John Carpenter directed this action film and ranks up as one of my favorites in that genre. Precinct 13 is mostly abandoned and is due to be closed. They hold a few criminals there for transit and the staff must fight off a very ruthless gang. A few people in the police force and a death row inmate all try to do the impossible. This was a low-budget film that works to no end. It also has some very good and brutal action scenes. John Carpenter wrote his own music score and it is a simple yet very effective score that he wrote. The performances from fairly unknown actors like Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Tony Burton, and Charles Cyphers were very good. This in an unsung classic and deserves a watch for those who like a good action film.
The Avengers (2012): This still remains my favorite of the Marvel Universe and my favorite superhero movie in general. I remember at first not thinking this could be doable but I glad to be wrong. Joss Whedon directed and wrote the screenplay. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson sees that it is time to bring together the Earth's mightiest heroes when facing a huge threat. He brings in Captain America, played by Chris Evans, Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr., and Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo. Banner is brought in with intentions to help with the scientific things but we all know that does not remain true. Joining them are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, and Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johannson. They must stop Thor's brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, from taking over the world. Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof, Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton, and many others co-star or have cameos. They did a perfect job in leading up to this film with the solo movies for Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America and brought them together seamlessly in this film. This was a really good group of characters in the climatic battle. This has a great blend of action and humor with all of them working very well together especially in just trying to co-exist with their different personalities.
Babel (2006): Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directed this film where there are four interlocking stories that happen and they are all in different parts of the world. This deals with families from Morocco, America, Japan and Mexico where a tragic event ties it altogether. This is one where I won't give away any plot details because it could give things away and feel this is best watched with a lack of knowledge. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Alex Jennings, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Pena, Rinko Kikuchi, Koji Yakusho, and many others co-star in this film. This is a very compelling film showing how we really are not a lot different in the world. I admit that I was not expecting much out of this movie but really found this drama essentially taking place around the world to be very moving. It turned out to be my favorite of this particular genre in film. This is one I feel has a great reward in the end.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): I know I don't have a lot from this era but this one is one of my personal favorites. William Wyler directed this film based on the novel by Mackinlay Kantor and might be one of the first movies to focus on the effect of war rather than war propaganda. Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell star as veterans coming home from the war and finding things are not easy. March stars as Al Stephenson who returns to his banking position and is told by the president not to make a habit out of giving veterans loans. Andrews stars as Fred Derry who goes home to a loveless marriage and has trouble finding work. Russell stars as Homer Parrish who now has hooks for hands and does not feel loved by his fiance who he believes stays with him out of pity. Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O'Donnell, Hoagy Carmichael, and many others co-star in this film. Russell was a real-life serviceman who lost his hands and was brought on with no acting experience making him very authentic in the role. This is a very good post-war movie and is possibly the best of that genre.
Black Snake Moan (2006): Craig Brewer wrote and directed this film taking place in rural Mississippi. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Lazarus who is a local blues musician. He finds a young girl named Rae, played by Christina Ricci, nearly beaten to death near his home. This is a girl who is considered the white-trash tramp and abused by her parents with both sexual and verbal abuse. He decides to take her in and keep her there by unusual methods to help turn her life around by being a father figure to her. Justin Timberlake co-stars as Rae's boyfriend Ronnie who is away for deployment and misunderstands the relationship between Lazarus and Rae. Jackson and Ricci work so well together and I will even go so far as to calling this a beautiful film. I remember being very pleasantly surprised by this one.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992): Francis Ford Coppola directed this film based on the classic novel from Bram Stoker. Keanu Reeves stars as Jonathan Harker who is sent to Transylvania to make a deal with Count Dracula, played by Gary Oldman, for some land in Britain. When Dracula sees a picture of Jonathan's wife Mina, played by Winona Ryder, he sees resemblance to his old love and imprisons Harker while going to London in pursuit of Mina. Anthony Hopkins co-stars as Van Helsing who suspects vampire activity and looks to stop Dracula. Tom Waits also co-stars as mental patient Renfield who also seems to be under Dracula's control. Cary Elwes, Sadie Frost, Bill Campbell, Richard E. Grant, and Monica Bellucci co-star in this film. This one is said to resemble the most to the novel than other adaptations through the years. This might be the first version that shows Dracula before he became the vampire and what drove him to it. Oldman gives a really good portrayal to the count bringing a very creepy feel but at the same time a more humanistic one. While being creepy and gory, it is also a beautiful telling of the legend and has remained my favorite adaptation.
Breezy (1973): I remember finding this on On-Demand and checking it out on account of Clint Eastwood being the director. The result was a pleasant surprise. Kay Lenz stars as Breezy who is a young, free-spirited hippie girl. She manages to escape from a man who only wants her for sex and ends up on a secluded property where middle-aged businessman named Frank Harmon who reluctantly takes her in his home. In the process, he unexpectedly falls in love with her forming a very unusual relationship. This is a very beautiful film of two totally different people in age and personality. Both actors do a great job and work so well together. It is unfortunate how unknown this film has become through the years.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002): Don Coscarelli directed this flim based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale. First I will go into a plot that is just seemingly absurd. This takes place in a small town nursing home where one of their residents is Elvis Presley, played by Bruce Campbell, who is still alive but took the name of an impersonator in order to get out of the limelight. Another notable resident is John F. Kennedy, played by Ossie Davis. Anyone who knows Ossie Davis knows that he is black and it turns out that JFK survived the assassination but was turned black by the government. These two icons or has-beens team up to take on a mummy which is feeding off souls of people in the nursing home. I was amazed by how they were able to take a pretty absurd plot and make it into a rather compelling and even moving film. Not only are they trying to save the souls but they are also wanting "redemption" for things in their past. I believe this is Bruce Campbell's best performance in his career. Brian Tyler wrote a music score which goes along with the movie very well. The leads are very good together and even gave me a new respect for Elvis and JFK.
A Bucket of Blood (1959): This might be a rather unusual selection but it is one that has stayed with me and my favorite work of Roger Corman's. For one, I like that it takes place much of the time in a coffee place full of artists. Dick Miller stars as Walter Paisley who works at this place and is jealous of the artists that always get featured. Things change when he accidentally kills his landlady's cat and decides to cover it in plaster which gets him seen by the people at the cafe as the great sculptor. With this new popularity comes them wanting more and continues to put out his art while others begin to disappear. Miller is really good as the meek waiter and wannabe artist who does what he believes he must to continue his new found popularity. It is a really good horror comedy and Corman's best work in my opinion.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): This is my favorite of the western genre. George Roy Hill directed this film which stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the title characters. They are the leaders in the Hole in the Wall gang and they have robbed one train too many when the law begins to catch up to them. When things start to get crazy they decide to flee to Bolivia but even then they are still pursued. Katherine Ross, Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Jeff Corey, Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, and many others co-star in this film. This does a really good job of having both action and some comedy. The leads play their parts to perfection portraying the as anti-heroes. Butch Cassidy's own sister Lula Parker Betenson often visited the set and even said that Newman played Cassidy very well.
Catch Me if You Can (2002): Steven Spielberg directed this film based on the autobiography of Frank Abagnale Jr., played very well by Leonardo DiCaprio, who at a very young age managed to con millions of dollars worth of checks posing as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and attorney. This shows him as a teen who runs away when things were not going so well as a kid. He picked up some skills from his street smart father, played by Christopher Walken, and is able to make a living by successfully posing as a pilot, doctor, and attorney. Tom Hanks co-star as FBI agent Carl Hanratty who is on his trail and while chasing him he comes to admire him for being able to do what he does at such a young age. Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams, James Brolin, Brian Howe, Jennifer Garner, Ellen Pompeo, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Acker, Chris Ellis, John Finn, Nancy Lenehan, and many others co-star in this film. The real-life Abagnale Jr. makes a cameo as one of his own arresting officers. This ranks up as one of my favorite movies especially in the biopic genre. It is a very intriguing and even admirable story as much as we hate to admit it. It is also a pretty fun watch with good performances from the leads. The DVD has some really good extras as well like interviews from Frank Abagnale Jr.
Clerks (1994): This is Kevin Smith's debut film and like Quentin Tarantino's debut of RESERVOIR DOGS, this will likely always remain my favorite for Smith who wrote, directed, and co-stars as Silent Bob. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson star as Dante and Randal who are a couple convenience store clerks hating their jobs, discussing movies, and getting themselves into some trouble in the period of a day. Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonauer, and Jason Mewes co-star in this film. This was low-budget to the core but Smith made the absolute most of it. He sold his comic book collection in order to get the necessary funding and ended up with a great low-budget comedy. There are some great nerd conversations and many situations convenience store clerks can relate. The movie is in black and white and keep in mind, that is not really a statement but just one of the things that happened with such a low budget. This is the start of the iconic contemporary characters of Jay and Silent Bob.
A Clockwork Orange (1971): Stanley Kubrick directed this adaptation on the novel by Anthony Burgess. This takes place in future Britain where Malcolm McDowell stars as gang leader Alex De Large. They go around terrorizing homes but is betrayed and ends up in prison. To get out early, he agrees to have unusual therapy developed by the government which makes him fear everything he hates which includes violence and even Beethoven. When he is out, the people that he wronged are out for revenge where he is left defenseless due to his fear of violence. This was a very bizarre movie to say the least and was quite ahead of its time. It was so weird that it was originally rated X but in time got down to R. The imagery was probably the strangest part of this. There is a scene where Alex is torturing a couple while singing SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and always feel guilty about how much this amuses me. Apparently Gene Kelly was not amused by how they used the song he is most known for and remained bitter towards McDowell. I have heard someone say that this is a statement towards the use of psychological drugs. This is by no means for everyone but is a very well done film on many levels.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002): George Clooney directed this film based on the autobiography by Chuck Barris who is most known as the host of THE GONG SHOW. Sam Rockwell stars as Barris and plays the part perfectly even looking like him. The interesting part of this movie is that Barris claims to have lead a double life as a CIA assassin while THE GONG SHOW was his front. George Clooney co-stars as the CIA agent who recruits Barris. Michael Cera co-stars as Barris as a child showing he lived a pretty screwed up childhood. Jerry Weintraub, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert John Burke, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer, Richard Kind, and Drew Barrymore all have cameos in the film. I always say this is a true story, many may not think so and there is no real proof one way or another. This is Clooney's directorial debut and was a very good one.
Crazy Heart (2009): Scott Cooper directed this film based on the novel by Thomas Cobb. Jeff Bridges stars as faded country star Bad Blake who is trying to find salvation and forms a relationship with journalist Jean, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, as well as trying to make a comeback. Colin Farrell stars as Tommy who was mentored by Bad Blake and went onto more success later in life. Ryan Bingham, Beth Grant, Rick Dial, Robert Duvall, and many others co-star in this film. I remember seeing this in theaters and as much as I don't usually like country music, I really liked the soundtrack in this one. Bridges was amazing in this film where he shows his music side very well and is a really good portrait of a singer past their prime.
The Crow (1994): Alex Proyas directed this film based on the comic book series and unfortunately is most known as the last movie for Brandon Lee who died while filming. Lee stars as murdered guitarist Eric Draven who is brought back by a hypnotic crow. He takes his revenge for the murder of him and his girlfriend in a very violent way leading up to crime lord Top Dollar, played by Michael Wincott. Ernie Hudson co-stars as burned out cop Sergeant Albrecht who helps Draven. Rochelle Davis, Bai Ling, Anna Levine, David Patrick Kelly, Laurence Mason, Michael Massee, Tony Todd, Jon Polito, and many others co-star in this film. As I said in the beginning of this description, Brandon Lee died when a gun had a real bullet that shot and killed him. It is unfortunate that it happened this way as this was a possible breakthrough for him. What I really liked about this movie is that behind the extreme and rather gratuitous violence, it is a very moving film. If you can tolerate extreme violence, I think this will end with a good reward.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957): This is my favorite entry of the Hammer Films and my favorite adaptation on the classic Mary Shelley novel. Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Victor Frankenstein who decides to create a man using body parts he acquires. When he is able to create this life, things do not go nearly as planned and a lot of tragedy happens. Christopher Lee co-stars as the creature and is his only portrayal of the Creature of Frankenstein as far as I know. Robert Urquhart stars as Paul who is a partner to Victor and begins to become concerned for the safety of his fiancee Elizabeth, played by Hazel Court. I feel Cushing played the best Victor Frankenstein in film. I have always enjoyed the story of Frankenstein and I liked that his had a more creepy feel to it than others. I had the pleasure to be in a theatrical version of Frankenstein and is one of my favorite things that I have done.
The Dark Knight (2008): This is the second of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and has really been my favorite of the films. Christian Bale reprises his role as Bruce Wayne who masquerades as the caped crusader in Gotham City. He finds a new enemy in the psychotic Joker, played by Heath Ledger in a role of a lifetime, who is wreaking havoc all over town. Gary Oldman reprises his role of Jim Gordon who is not commissioner yet and Aaron Eckhart co-stars as the new district attorney Harvey Dent. Bruce is looking to fight justice but understands that he is not the hero that Gotham City needs and looks to support Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, William Fichtner, and many others co-star in this film. I have always favored this darker Batman stories and really like what Nolan did with them. In this one, it was interesting how everything the Joker did, much of the town would blame Batman. I also really liked what Ledger did in this film but I do not believe this lead to his death like some have said.
Dillinger (1973): John Milius wrote and directed this film on the famed bank robber from my own state of Indiana. Warren Oates plays Dillinger and plays him to perfection even to the point of just looking the part. Ben Johnson co-stars as G-Man Melvin Purvis who is determined to bring down Dillinger and his gang. Cloris Leachman plays Anna Sage who most people know the part she played in his life. Richard Dreyfuss and Steve Kanaly co-star as other famed criminals of Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. Michelle Phillips, Harry Dean Stanton, John P. Ryan, Frank McRae, and many others co-star in this film.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008): I guess this is technically a tv series that was written for the internet but this I make the rules here, I can refer to it as a movie if I want. Joss Whedon wrote this three episode series during the time of the writer's strike and found a loophole to get this released on the internet. Neil Patrick Harris stars as Dr. Horrible who is an aspiring supervillain determined to join the Evil League of Evil. His plans are always foiled by the egotistical superhero Captain Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion. He also falls in love with the beautiful Penny, played by Felicia Day, who is an advocate for the homeless and begins to date Captain Hammer much to Horrible's dismay. This is a total of 45 minutes. It is very funny and has some really good musical numbers. If you are home by yourself or among friends, this will a great watch that is less than an hour.
Duel (1971): This is a very early film directed by Steven Spielberg and it is a tv movie. Dennis Weaver stars in this film as David Mann who is out driving and angers a truck driver who in turn tries to kill him. Most of this movie is Weaver trying to avoid the psychotic truck driver and we never see the driver. This really captures a very creepy feel and my dad has referred to this as the scariest movie he has ever seen. Weaver does a great job of carrying this movie which deserves a lot more exposure. This is a low-budget, no special effects but has a great script and story to watch.
Ed Wood (1994): This is my favorite of all the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaborations. Johnny Depp stars as the title character who is regarded as "The Worst Director of All Time". Wood was a very ambitious filmmaker and did the best he could to fulfill his dream no matter how much support he had. Much of this focuses on the relationship between Wood and Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau in an Oscar-winning performance, where Wood befriends Lugosi in his last days and puts him in his movies even with him past his prime. Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Mike Starr, Max Casella, Lisa Marie, George "The Animal" Steele, Juliet Landau, and many others co-star in this film. Also, Wood alums Conrad Brooks and Gregory Walcott have cameos in this film. The movie has a very good black and white feel. When done with this one, maybe check out some Wood like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and GLEN OR GLENDA which are some of the best bad movies ever made with Burton making a great portrayal in this film.
The Expendables (2010): Sylvester Stallone directed and co-wrote this action film which had just about everything I could have wanted. Stallone stars as Barney Ross who leads a team of Mercenaries which include Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Mickey Rourke. Rourke is more in the beginning as the guy who supplies the weapons but makes a very good cameo. They are being hired to take out a Latin dictator and a renegade CIA agent. Eric Roberts co-stars as the villain which Stone Cold Steve Austin as essentially his henchman. BUFFY alum Charisma Carpenter also has a part as Statham's girlfriend. This is a throwback to 80s action films and while violent, they were so much fun and could be a guilty pleasure but I don't feel very guilty especially that I included it here. There is also a historical scene where Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are in the same room. They have cameos here but more expanded roles in the last two. I have seen the second one but not the third one as as yet. The second one was also very enjoyable to me adding Van Damme and Chuck Norris. This is a really good one for guys night.
A Face in the Crowd (1957): Elia Kazan directed this film which was written by Budd Schulberg. Andy Griffith makes his film debut as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes who is actually discovered while spending time in jail when radio person Marcia Jeffries, played by Patricia Neal, goes there to interview inmates and finds that Rhodes is a decent singer and very amusing to listen to. He gets to host his own radio show where he becomes very popular for saying many things people want to hear. He then gets a tv show where everyone is at the palm of his hand becoming corrupted by his rise to fame. Walter Mathau co-stars as writer Mel Miller who begins to see right through Lonesome. Lee Remick and Anthony Franciosa also co-star in this film. I had seen this before and thought "I will never look at Andy Griffith in the same way again" and that remains true. Just think "Andy Griffith driven to insanity" and you will see he is so much more than Andy Taylor and Ben Matlock. I believe he gives his best performance in this film. The movie itself is also rather ahead of its time kind of like when the 1976 film NETWORK came out. The character of Lonesome Rhodes is essentially a reality tv star before the phrase even existed. This is a very underrated film that everyone should see.
Face/Off (1997): John Woo comes out to the United States for this action movie and is my favorite of his American movies. John Travolta stars as FBI agent Sean Archer who still mourns over the son that was killed by his rival Castor Troy, played by Nicolas Cage, who was trying to kill Archer but got his son instead. Years later, he finally manages to capture Troy which puts him in a coma. He learns that there is a bomb planted by Castor and is unable to get any information out of him so agrees to a very unusual method of becoming Castor Troy by putting his face on him in order to attempt to get information out of his brother Pollux, played by Alessandro Nivola. Things take a turn for the worst when Castor wakes up and demands to have Sean Archer's face and then torches the evidence including the doctor involved. Joan Allen, Margaret Cho, Gina Gershon, Nick Cassavetes, Dominique Swain, Harve Presnell, John Carroll Lynch, CCH Pounder, and many others co-star in this film. Both stars have been known to make some pretty bad choices in the world of film but each one made the right one here. They both did a great job of playing both characters. This also has some really good action scenes. What I really like about this movie is that while it is very violent, it is also a very moving story and still come to tears at the end of the movie.
Fargo (1996): This was directed by the Coen Brothers and remains my favorite of theirs. The beginning claims that this is based on a true story which the Coens have since admitted that it was more for dramatic effect but is still a very clever and compelling film. William H. Macy stars as struggling car salesman Jerry Lundegaard who clearly has some financial issues. He comes up with a really weird crime in which he hires two criminals, played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, to kidnap his wife so that his rich father in law, played by Harve Presnell, will pay the ransom and he gets half that ransom. Buscemi and Stormare play Carl and Gaear who are very inept criminals and screw up what Jerry thought was a simple scheme. Frances McDormand co-stars as the pregnant Sheriff Marge Gunderson who investigates the crime and is really good in her role. John Carroll Lynch co-stars as Marge's husband always out to make sure she is eating healthy. Look near the end for Bruce Campbell where he is on a fuzzy tv screen. This has a great blend of action and dark comedy. It also has a lot of good performances, direction, and the cinematography.
Fearless (2006): This is my Jet Li's last Hong Kong martial arts epic. Ronny Yu directed this film which stars Li as Huo Yuanjia who founded the Jing Wu Sports Federation. This tells the story of him to childhood into his adult life. In his younger days, it shows Yuanjia as a very determined fighter who does not really understand the Jing Wu philosophy and becomes very greedy that he must beat everyone possible. His attitude soon leads to tragedy to those close to him. He soon ends up near death but saved by a blind woman in a remote village where he learns more about compassion. He then returns to him home country with a new understanding that Jing Wu is so much more than fighting. He soon joins a fight contest formed by the Foreign Chamber of Commerce who resort to some crooked methods. He soon is pitted against four fighters including former WWE wrestler Nathan Jones. This is a much different movie for Jet Li than I have seen. I have not seen him where he goes so overboard and disgraces himself and his countrymen then finds his redemption. I am really into the Asian Martial Arts films and have come to see Jet Li as my favorite and this really ranks up in the genre for me. It is a beautiful story of redemption and has a great music score which I can always expect in an Asian film. This is available on Instant Netflix and those who like Hong Kong must watch this one.
The Fisher King (1991): Former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam directed this film that was written by Richard LaGravenese. Jeff Bridges stars as shock jock radio dj Jack Lucas whose conversation with a caller inadvertingly causes a tragedy which really depresses him and even caused suicidal tendencies. He soon comes across an unusual homeless man named Perry, played by Robin Williams, who is in a quest to retrieve "the Holy Grail". Jack sees an opportunity for redemption in helping Perry win over the girl of his dreams whose name is Lydia, played by Amanda Plummer. Mercedes Ruehl co-stars as Jack's girlfriend who is trying to help him move forward from the tragedy. Bridges was great and very complex as Jack and Williams was also good as Perry as well as the rest of the cast. Michael Palin, Kathy Najimy, Harry Shearer, and Tom Waits have parts in this film. This movie was a great blend of comedy and drama about a man's journey to redemption. This is a movie that was driven by the characters and has really stayed under the radar so hopefully this will get it more exposure.
For the Bible Tells Me So (2007): This is a very eye-opening documentary which was directed by Daniel Karslake. This takes a look at the religious community along with homosexuality. Part of it is the discussion of scripture and the possible meaning in the bible. Part of this documentary takes a look at families who are very religious and then have a child come out of the closet where the parents discuss the adjustment they have had to make and rethink what they have in the past. It also takes a look at places who have a so-called cure for people being gay. It was good to see even priests saying how we misinterpret the bible a lot especially when it comes to homosexuality. This is a very moving documentary and believe that we should all be watching this movie. For many, it took having someone in the family to realize that we are no different so take a look at this film and don't wait for a family member to come out before you have to consider your thoughts on someone whose only difference is they like the same sex.
Gladiator (2000): Ridley Scott directed Roman film. I know most people favor SPARTACUS over this one but I have always been more compelled by this one. Russell Crowe stars as Roman general Maximus who serves the aging emperor Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris, who names Maximus as his heir instead of his son Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix. The news does not sit well with Commodus who after his father's death has Maximus and his family murdered and only succeeds with his family while Maximus is captured and forced into the gladiator games. He soon encounters Commodus and sees a chance for revenge toward his family. Connie Nielson, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, David Hemmings, Sven-Ole Thorson, and many others co-star in this film. Russell Crowe does so well in this movie and Phoenix works very well off him as the villain. This has always stuck with me as a very moving action film with really good performances.
The Godfather: Part II (1974): This is a series I really enjoy and make no mistake, I really like the first one but in the end I chose this one for the list. This is a sequel where Al Pacino reprises his role of Michael Corleone who is now the head of the Corleone family and looking to expand his empire into Vegas, Cuba and Hollywood. Robert De Niro co-stars as the young Vito Corleone in flashback scenes which charts his own rise. The flashback scenes were part of the actual book by Mario Puzo but left out of the first one so they brought it to the second one and they way they went about going back and forth in eras worked very well showing their parallel lives though seeing Michael as very ruthless and Vito is more compassionate unless you really mess with him. Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Bruno Kirby, Dominic Chianese, Troy Johnson, Danny Aiello, Harry Dean Stanton, and many others co-star or have bit parts. Also look for Roger Corman as one of the senators. This is possibly the best sequel of all time. Many years later they released a third one where Pacino plays a more aged Michael Corleone which some did not like but I refer to it as misunderstood and while not being as good as the first two, it still had some interesting moments.
Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah (2001): I have seen many of these movies which are usually rather enjoyable but was very surprised by how compelled I was by this one. This takes place 50 years after Godzilla's attack and has somehow been revived. To counter this attack, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and Baragon have been awaken to go against Godzilla. This also has a pretty good story to it with some good action and some of the best characters. As far as I know, this is the first time King Ghidorah has been on the good side. This is actually quite good having a good script and even good special effects.
Goodfellas (1990): Martin Scorsese directed this definitive mafia film based on the book WISEGUY by Nicholas Pileggi. Ray Liotta stars as Henry Hill whose life the movie is based upon and shows him from childhood to his rise to the mob and his downfall. He takes part in a robbery with Jimmy Conway, played by Robert De Niro, and Tommy DeVito, played by Joe Pesci. This is where it starts and they aspire for more. Lorraine Bracco co-stars as Henry's wife Karen whose marriage they do not glorify. Paul Sorvino, Mike Starr, Frank Vincent, Debi Mazar, Michael Imperioli, Samuel L. Jackson, and many others co-star in this film. Liotta is perfect to play Henry Hill and shows the ups and downs of the mobster. This is very well-directed and is pretty realistic. Most of the names were changed from what I can see except Henry Hill. This is authentic as a mob movie can get and is a must watch.
Gran Torino (2008): Clint Eastwood directed this film and stars as Korean war veteran Walt Kowalski who lives in a neighborhood among many Asian families, mostly Hmong. Descriptions describe Walt as prejudice and bigoted but I believe that is the wrong word. I think he hates what he has to see. Things change in his life when a teenage neighbor named Thao, played by Bee Vang, tries to steal his prized possession of his car. He begins to see that the teen is among peer pressure from a Hmong gang which consisted of his own cousin. When Walt does a good deed that helps the family, they feel they owe him and he decides to help Thao towards the right path in life. Christopher Carley, Ahney Her, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes, Dreama Walker, Brian Howe, John Carroll Lynch, William Hill, Brooke Chia Thao, and many others co-star in this film. This is among my favorite movies. Eastwood and Vang worked very well together. It was also very moving with Eastwood doing what he can for someone he did not like at first leading into a great climax. I find this to possibly be Eastwood's best work.
Hard Candy (2005): David Slade directed this film written by Brian Nelson. Ellen Page stars as Hayley Stark who is a teen and has been chatting with an older man named Jeff, played by Patrick Wilson. They finally decide to meet and Hayley ends up turning the tables on his by drugging him and then tying him up while accusing him of pedophilia. He initially denies the allegation so she does what she can to get him to confess what she is convinced he is. This mostly takes place in an apartment and is carried almost the whole way through between these two with the exception of some extras in the beginning and a cameo from Sandra Oh. This was around the time this was on the rise where people would meet underage kids and them advantage of them but this film decided to turn the tables. Page and Wilson carry this movie very well. It is by no means for everyone but is a very compelling film if you can get past the subject manner and the violence.
Heat (1995): Michael Mann wrote and directed where Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have their historic on-screen encounter. Notice I say "encounter" so I am not referring to them both being in THE GODFATHER PART II due to them playing characters in different eras. Al Pacino stars as Lt. Vincent Hanna who leads a robbery/homicide division investigating a series of robberies. Robert De Niro stars as Neil McCauley who leads the robbery crew which includes people like Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Danny Trejo. One of their robberies goes bad when their new guy, played by Kevin Gage, flies off the handle resulting in the deaths of police officers. The biggest focus this has is towards those two characters whose personal lives are rather similar and the respect they form for each other leading to a great climax. Jon Voight, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Hank Azaria, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Jeremy Piven, Xander Berkeley, and many others co-star in this great cops and robbers film. This is partly based on a detective friend of Mann's and actual thief named Neil McCauley. This is a very compelling film that really holds nothing back and is rather moving at times behind all the violence.
Her (2013): I recall this being my favorite of the year. Spike Jonze wrote and directed this futuristic film. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore who is a rather lonely man who decides to purchase a new operating system called the OS1 which is to be designed as the first operating system which artificial intelligence. The OS takes the name of Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, actually speaks to Theodore where they form a relationship. Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Bill Hader, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Brian Cox, and many others have parts or provide a voice in this film. I thought this was very cleverly done like just about anything Jonze does. I always like a good and unusual love story and I would say this one easily qualifies. I also like that the future is not so bleak in this movie like it is in others. Don't be close minded and check out this really well done film and then follow that up with my other favorite of Jonze which is BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.
The Housemaid (1960): This is my Korean film which I featured in my nine year anniversary last year when I focused on all foreign language films and this is the favorite of those I featured. Ki-Young Kim who wrote and directed. Married man and father Mr. Kim works in a factory giving music classes and piano lessons to the employees and also giving home lessons at time. He hires a young girl per the recommendation of one of his students as a housemaid. She begins to exhibit unusual behavior and makes Mr. Kim succumb to temptation when he has an affair. The maid soon begins to wreak havoc on the household. I don't want to go too far into this one as I feel I might give too much away. This movie might have disturbed me more thatn anything I have seen. This was remade in 2010 and is was okay but did not capture the creep factor that this film was able to achieve so look into this one first if you can. This movie has a lot of scenes that probably could not have happened here in the United States at the time.
House of Flying Daggers (2004): Yimou Zhang directed this martial arts film that branches into fantasy and into a love story. Zhang Ziyi stars as Mei who is a blind girl and part of a rebel group of the title name. She is arrested by a cop named Leo, played by Andy Lau. He sends Officer Jin, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, undercover to investigate this group starting with breaking Me out of jail and earning the trust of the group. Everything is far more complicated than it seems and we are in for all kinds of twists and turns. This movie worked for me on so many levels from the acting, fight choreography, the love story, cinematography. This might be my favorite in martial arts movies and is altogether a beautiful film.
The House of the Devil (2009): I have not always used a lot from the horror genre but this is one that has always stayed with me. Ti West wrote and directed this independent horror film which stars Jocelin Donahue stars as broke college student Samantha who takes a babysitting job which turns out to be a rather unusual one but takes it for the money. She soon learns that her clients, played by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, lead a satanic cult where she must soon fight for her life. Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, and Dee Wallace all co-star. I remember seeing this a couple years ago and actually liked it far more than I thought I would. Donahue carries it very well by herself when she is at the home by herself trying to figure out what is happening. This takes place in the 80s and how can you dislike a movie which has THE BREAKUP SONG by the Greg Kihn Band. This did have some good suspense and Ti West did a great job of making a good movie out of a familiar storyline.
The Imposter (2012): This is a documentary directed by Bart Layton where a Frenchman claims to be the son of a missing Texas family who has disappeared for three years. This is a very non-biased documentary but I do not believe I will explain further. When I looked this up on imdb, the review on hand said "the less you know, the more interesting it will be" and I must say that I agree. This whole thing was very bizarre and even plays on our emotions more with a heavy handed music score that was rather disturbing. This is a very fascinating documentary that will leave many just scratching their head but cannot take their eyes off of it. This is available on Instant Netflix.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946): This is my annual holiday film that I have been watching since my late high school days. I usually either watch it with my dad or mom when it airs on NBC just depending where I am. I even had the pleasure a couple years ago to host it myself at my friend Shera's house with her and her daughters. Frank Capra directed this film where I believe that the message conveyed is anything one person does to help another can make a big difference no matter how small the favor might seem at the time. James Stewart stars as small-town boy George Bailey who wants to get out of Bedford Falls but things always happen and ends up staying there. He marries his childhood friend Mary, played by Donna Reed, and has four kids. He does what he can to prevent Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, from taking over the town and screwing everyone over. Something happens where George feels he has hit rock bottom and contemplates suicide. An unusual angel named Clarence, played by Henry Travers, comes down to stop him and show him a world that would have happened had he not been born. Thomas Mitchell, Ward Bond, Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, and many others co-star in this film. I always look forward to seeing this one and am always moved to tears each time. It always reminds me of how little things can be a lot bigger than they appear. Please ring some bells and help angels get their wings.
JCVD (2008): I remember walking through Wal-Mart years ago checking out what they have in DVDs and saw this dvd and Jean Claude Van-Damme. I was about to just walk by it but was somewhat intrigued and when I read the cover I was literally sold as I bought the dvd. Van Damme plays himself returns to his country of France where he is a has-been, has a lot of financial troubles and a custody battle for his daughter that he loses. He still can't find good film projects but before anything can come around, he becomes a hostage at a post office and must try to help the others stay alive but becomes suspected of being the person holding the place hostage. This was a great part for him and he was great in this movie, including a great monologue towards the end on what his career has become where you really feel for him. I really hope they can do something like this for Steven Seagal sometime. I will never be able to look at him the same again after this one and I am so glad he got to do this one. Mabrouk El Mechri directed this and came up with the scenario for the film and all I have to say is wow. If you think Van Damme can't do a good movie, think again and check this out.
Johnny Got His Gun (1971): This is my WWI drama for the series which was written and directed by Dalton Trumbo which is based on his own novel and this is also the only movie he ever directed. Timothy Bottoms plays a WWI soldier named Joe who is wounded to a fate worse than death. He loses his legs, arms and face so he is confined to a bed but the doctors have no idea he still has the biggest part of his body which is the mind. Part of the movie is him in the hospital room and wanting to know what is going on around him since he does not know because he lost his hearing and his sight. He also reflects on his life before his horrible fate where some of it is reality and some is in dreams. There are also some very interesting interactions with Jesus, played by Donald Sutherland of all people, which were written by the legendary director Luis Bunuel. I was quite blown away by the beauty and sadness of the film and the strange ending.
Kick-Ass (2010): Matthew Vaughn directed this homage to the comic book world. Aaron Taylor-Johnson stars as Dave Lizewski who is a nerdy high-schooler who is unnoticed and loves comic books. He then decides to become a superhero though he has no training or powers and becomes the title character. In his attempts toward the superhero world, he encounters a 10 year old girl who calls herself Hit-Girl, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, and someone called Big Daddy, played by Nicolas Cage, which is Hit-Girl's father. They team up to take down a mob boss, played by Frank D'amico. Elizabeth McGovern, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jason Flyming, Yancy Butler, Xander Berkeley, and many others co-star in this film. I remember seeing this in theaters with my friend Lisa and not really knowing anything about it but becoming pleasantly surprised by what I saw. I believe Moretz has the highest kill right of a girl of her age and is really good in her role. Another movie of hers that year was LET HER IN where she also racked up quite a body count. I thought Nicolas Cage had his best performance in years as her father who is pretty much raising his daughter to become a vigilante and has some rather extreme measures in his training. This movie has a lot of violence but it has a lot of comedy as well. This is a very clever and original superhero movie.
The Killer (1989): John Woo directed and wrote this action film and is my favorite John Woo film as well as my favorite among the John Woo/ Chow Yun-Fat collaborations. Chow stars as Ah Jong who is a hitman wanting to retire but takes one last job in order to help a nightclub singer named Jenny, played by Sally Yeh who was mostly blinded by Ah Jong's accidental shot. He is betrayed by his employers and being hunted by them and the police. The main investigator is Inspector Li, played by Danny Lee, who is pursuing Ah Jong and begins to admire him for seemingly having a code toward his lifestyle and sees that he is not just some cold-blooded killer. They slowly team up and become friends both with the same interests. This has just about everything from a good music score, good performances, direction, and really good action scenes. Also, behind all that violence, it is also a very moving film where we see a hitman who has a conscience and no one can pull that off better than Chow Yun-Fat in my opinion. It has a really good climax where there is a shootout at a church among doves. This is an amazing action film that was done right and deserves a watch.
Killer Joe (2011): William Friedkin directs this movie which is based on a play by Tracy Letts. Emile Hirsch stars as Chris who is in a lot of debt. He learns that the mother he hates has a very high insurance premium and gets his father Ansel, played by Thomas Haden Church, who is now divorced from her to go along with his plan to have the mother knocked off. They learn of Joe Cooper, played very well by Matthew McConaughey, who is a police detective but moonlights as a hitman. They are not able to pay him up front like he wants to he takes Chris's sister Dottie, played by Juno Temple, as a retainer until he is fully paid. Gina Gershon co-stars as Ansel's current wife Sharla who is also very significant to what is happening. When things go fourth, everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. This is quite violent and is not for everyone but I was just glued to the screen in intrigue. I would be interested to see what it would be like to see the play version of this and would be very interested to be in it so I say Muncie Civic Theater needs to look to get it to their studio theater.
King Kong (2005): Peter Jackson directed this remake and is my favorite movie from Jackson and my favorite of these films. Not including sequels, this is the third film of the big ape. The first was in 1933 which is an absolute classic and the second was in 1976 and accomplished no more than being a guilty pleasure. In this version, Peter Jackson remains respectful of the original classic while still essentially making it his own. This actually takes place in New York where Jack Black plays the overly ambitious movie producer Carl Denham who coerces his cast and crew to go to the island of Skull Island including his recently cast leading lady Ann Darrow, played very well by Naomi Watts, who is quite desperate for work. They find a strange and ruthless tribe and unusual creatures including the giant title gorilla who takes a big liking to Ann Darrow while Carl sees this as an opportunity where they set out to capture and take the big ape to New York. Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis, Colin Hanks, Kyle Chandler, and many others co-star in this film. Yes, I chose this one over the original which might get me some heat. This was a longer version and maybe could have stood to be cut some but I tend to let that go. What really stood out to me was the relationship between Ann Darrow and King Kong. In the 1933 version, Kong's love for her was very one-sided and Ann wanted nothing to do with Kong. In this version, she fears him at first but slowly realizing that he saved her life and befriends Kong. I thought there were some very good moments between them like the really subtle scene where she is sitting on his paw and they are looking out into the world together. For some reason that scene has always stuck out to me. Also, in the scene where Kong becomes loose in New York, Ann gave herself to him understanding that the crew wronged him. I thought it was a beautiful film and it was that relationship that stuck out to me the most.
Kung Fury (2015): Yes, this made it on here. My friend Chris turned me onto this one and showed me the music video of TRUE SURVIVOR by none other than David Hasselhoff. This was funded by a Kickstarter project and was written and directed by David Sandberg who also stars as Kung Fury. He is a martial artist cop from the 80s who goes back in time to kill Adolf Hitler who is also a martial artist. It is really hard to put this into words. It is an homage to the 80s. It has some great cheesy effects and an interesting way of doing time travel that first got him sent to a much older era but got him some allies. David Hasselhoff has a cameo and a very entertaining song for the soundtrack. This is a 30 minute movie which is available on Youtube. I found this on the El Rey network which also interviewed David Sandberg some. I had a rather unpleasant encounter with the Hoff in 2009 but for this am willing to put that aside to really enjoy this work of art that entertained me to no end with the cheesy effects, dinosaurs that shoot lazers, hot prehistoric women, and so much more.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007): This was one I was very surprised by. Craig Gillespie directed this film which was written by Nancy Oliver. Ryan Gosling plays the title character who is a shy, young man in a small town. He then announces he has a girlfriend which turns out to be a sex doll that he ordered. Sex was not what he had in mind but more of a deep, meaningful relationship. His brother-in-law and sister become concerned but see that he is happy so they support him and his girl becomes another person in the community because of what he feels. There is not much more to say but this did turn out to be a very good love story. This is the type of plot that could have really gone wrong but it was done so well where you really care about Lars and his girl.
The Last Samurai (2003): I remember seeing the poster and thinking "Tom Cruise in a samurai film?" mostly thinking WTF but then it turned into one of my favorites. Edward Zwick directed and co-wrote this film along with John Logan. Cruise stars as Civil War veteran Captain Nathan Algren who is very bitter about his times but takes a job in training a very inexperienced Japanese army and go after a group of Samurai warriors who refuse to give into the western ways and fight to keep their tradition. In an attack on the group, Nathan is captured by the samurai and taken to they reside. Ken Watanabe stars as Katsumodo who is mostly the leader of the samurai and is curious about Nathan. They slowly become friends and a bitter Algren begins to develop their ways kind of like DANCES WITH WOLVES and later AVATAR. William Atherton, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Timothy Spall, and many others co-star in this film. I really thought Cruise gave one of his best performances in this one and Watanabe also does a great job in his American debut. This has a really good story leading up to a very emotional climax.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995): I believe this is one Nicolas Cage's best performances. Usually when I bring this movie up to people everyone mentions the flying Elvis's and then I have to remind them "no, that's HONEYMOON IN VEGAS" so I figured I'd get that out of the way. Mike Figgis directed this film which is based on a novel by John O'Brien. Cage stars as Ben Sanderson who is a Hollywood screenwriter but gets fired from his job over his drinking problem. When this happens, he goes to Vegas with the plan to drink himself to death. He ends up meeting a prostitute named Sera, played by Elizabeth Shue, who he takes a liking to and they form a relationship with the agreement they will not interfere with each other's life meaning she cannot question his suicidal drinking binge and he won't question her profession. Julian Sands, Richard Lewis, Steven Weber, Emily Procter, Valeria Golino, Carey Lowell, French Stewart, Ed Lauter, R. Lee Ermey, Mariska Hargitay, Danny Huston, Julian Lennon, Xander Berkeley and many others have cameo appearances in this film. This is quite dark, depressing, and intense movie and it is really the kind of love story I enjoy the most. I like a love story that is unusual and this gets it done on many levels. It is also a very good look at someone dependent on alcohol. Cage gives a great performance as well as Elizabeth Shue.
Leon: The Professional (1994): This is also one that has stood out in my mind and made me a fan of Jean Reno. Luc Besson directed this film which stars Natalie Portman, in her film debut, as Mathilda whose father has some dirty dealings with some corrupt DEA agents where her father and the rest of her family is murdered. The only killing that really upsets her is the one of her younger brother. When escaping, a man named who lives in an apartment down the hall reluctantly takes her in to protect her. She then sees that Leon is a rather unusual man with the job of a "cleaner". When she sees this, she asks him to help avenge the murder of her little brother and even train her to do what he does for a living. They soon form an adult/child friendship and becomes a bit of a father figure to her and he for the first time experiences life while helping her take revenge on Norman Stansfield, played by Gary Oldman. This movie was actually made in France and the first copy released in the United States had some pretty heavy editing. I then found a dvd which gives about an additional 20 minutes which really make sense of some plotholes you might find in the first copy. Portman and Reno work so well together and Jean Reno was great as a conscientious professional killer who finally learns how to live through a young girl. Portman also made a great debut starting quite a career. The DVD that I have is the International Cut.
Les Miserables (2012): Tom Hooper directed this popular musical adaptation to the classic novel from Victor Hugo. Hugh Jackman stars as Jean ValJean who is getting paroled from prison after 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread. He finds that it is hard to move on with his life and breaks his parole to start a whole new one. He is running a factory and meets his worker Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, and sees how she has been mistreated at work and outside of work. He agrees to help raise her daughter Cosette, played by Amanda Seyfried in her grown years. In the process, he has the ruthless policeman Javert, played by Russell Crowe, on his trail and later they both get caught up in the French Revolution. Sacha Baran Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Banks, and many others co-star in this film. The original Jean ValJean of the stage Colm Wilkinson plays the noble priest early in the film who helps Valjean start his new life. Jackman was great as ValJean and finally exposing to everyone the musical theater actor that he is. Hathaway has a small part but shines to no end especially on her singing I DREAMED A DREAM. Crowe has an unusual voice and the first time I watched it I did not like him singing but then the more I watch it, I believe his voice really fit his character. This one of my favorite musicals and thought Hooper did a really good job bringing it to the screen. I hope one day to be in this musical and one I would accept chorus but want Javert.
Life is Beautiful (1997): This is my Italian film where much of America including myself first got to know the funny Roberto Benigni who wrote, directed, and stars as Guido. Guido is a very funny man who meets the love of his life Dora, played by his real-life wife Nicoletta Braschi, where they then have a son. Guido's world begins to change however when they are all put in Nazi concentration camps where he stays with his son but Dora is separated from him. In camp, Guido does whatever he can to ease his fears by making him believe it is a big game where the winner gets a big tank. Make no mistake, this is not a holocaust comedy. This is a drama during the horrible Nazi rule where a father uses comedy so that his son is not scared. This was such a well done film on that era and Benigni won quite a bit of rewards including the great Oscar moment where he walks on the top of the chairs to get to the stage.
Lolita (1997): It was very hard to decide which one I wanted to feature between this one and the original in 1962 from Stanley Kubrick but in the end I went with this newer version. Adrian Lyne directed this remake to the 1962 film by Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov. Jeremy Irons stars as Professor Humbert Humbert, yes that is his name, who rents a room from Charlotte Haze, played by Melanie Griffith, and immediately takes notice and becomes very attracted to her 14 year old daughter Delores, played by Dominique Swain. He decides to marry Charlotte in order to get closer to Delores and when tragedy strikes he has Delores to himself where they form a very unusual relationship. Frank Langella co-stars as Quilty who has his own ill intentions. This was a very controversial and provocative film that takes it to a new level in that regard from the original. I like both versions but in the end, I enjoy this one more. The part I like more on the older version is with Shelley Winters and Peter Sellers. I like that this movie goes briefly into a backstory with Humbert that explains his obsession some. Swain is great as the title character. A reviewer made a very interesting remark saying how with the direction how we are forced to see through the eyes of Humbert making us co-conspirators of his crime which is sadly rather accurate. Both versions hold their own and could make a really good double feature.
The Lost Weekend (1945): Billy Wilder directed this film which takes a look at the life of an alcoholic and something that I would say was rather controversial to show in that era. Ray Milland stars as Don who is supposed to go away with his girlfriend Helen, played by Jane Wyman, and his brother Wick, played by Phillip Terry. He decides not to go with them and when finding $10, he resorts back to the bottle. Eventually he ends up at a bar where he reflects on his past as an alcoholic. This is a very brutal look at the effects off alcoholism and what it can do to those involved including the alcoholic and their loved ones. Milland was very good in his role and was a very compelling film to watch. I watch a lot from this era and usually prefer these more gritty films that at the time took more guts to make. The alcohol industry and Paramount were very leary about the film but then it became very praised by the critics and won an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Moulin Rouge! (2001): Baz Luhrman directed and co-wrote this very unusual musical. This takes place in the year 1899 and the musical numbers are mostly music from the 20th century in which they work in very well to make me believe it was that year. Ewan McGregor stars as Christian who is a poet making his way to Paris to and joins up with a group of Bohemians. He goes to the nightclub of the Moulin Rouge and is mistaken for the Duke by Satine, played very well by Nicole Kidman, who is supposed to meet up with the Duke but finds Christian instead. They slowly form a very dangerous affair as the Duke, played by Richard Roxburgh, covets Satine. Jim Broadbent stars as Harold Zidler who runs the Moulin Rouge and is very amusing in his role, especially his cover of Madonna's LIKE A VIRGIN. It is interesting how when I show this movie to friends, their first though is that he is the villain due to things like his outgoing personality and the kind of place he runs. He really is not the villain and does what he must and is pretty caring towards his employees like Satine even if he does not want to be. My favorite scene is the scene when he covers the Queen song THE SHOW MUST GO ON and it shows his more human side. This also has some amazing cinematography with very good performances. I have been known to karaoke a few of these songs and have no problem telling anyone. It is a beautiful and complex love story and one I never get tired of seeing.
The Muppets (2011): HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER alum Jason Segal co-wrote this new Muppets movie which you could say is a comeback film. He also stars as Gary and has a younger brother named Walter, voiced by Peter Linz, who is a muppet himself and has grown up with that show. Gary and his girlfriend Mary, played by Amy Adams, surprise Walter by taking him to the Muppet Theater which is more of a tourist attraction now and all the Muppets have went their separate ways. Walter soon learns of a plan that oil mogul Tex Richman, played by Chris Cooper, wants to drill for oil. They all go tell Kermit this news and and he insists they go out on a road trip in order to reunite the gang and put on a show in hopes of stopping Richman's scheme. Celebrity cameos include Alan Arkin, Bill Cobbs, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, John Krasinski, Mickey Rooney, Whoopi Goldberg, and Selena Gomez. I have always been a Muppets fan but this one really became my favorite. Segal did a great job in bringing back this franchise and made it his own while still respecting the history of the Muppets. There are also some really good musical numbers like the Oscar winning MAN OR MUPPET in which I have been known to karaoke from time to time. One I never get tired of seeing so it makes this list.
Network (1976): Sidney Lumet directed what was then satire but now not as far-fetched. Peter Finch plays the iconic Howard Beale who is an anchor on the news who has gone off the deep end and due to his ratings, he is being fired. He goes off on a cynical rant on national tv which garners all kinds of ratings so then the network does what they can to get their ratings even if it means to exploit him. Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, among others co-star. This movie was way ahead of its time and when you are done reading this paragraph, I want to you open a window and shout "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to it anymore".
Once Upon a Time in China (1991): This is quite possibly my favorite Hong Kong film and is my favorite from Jet Li along with FEARLESS. Jet Li stars as Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung during 19th century Canton. He runs a school for martial arts and must contend with corrupt government officials, a renegade swordsman, and an illegal slavery ring. I have usually favored Jet Li to the martial artist actors. Jackie Chan has some good ones but gets a little too comedic for my tastes. Even the legendary Bruce Lee is a bit a mixed bag with me in terms of their storyline and his characters. Jet Li usually does a good job of working in comedy but not to the extreme. This has some really good action scenes and is the start of a decent series of film.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): This is the only silent film I have on here and of the ones I have seen, this is my favorite. I watched this one night at home on a big screen tv and I was just mesmerized. My friend Travis also showed it when he did the co-op film series and still had such an effect. Maybe if I watched it on some small screen I would not have had the same effect but this was just phenomenal. This actually takes plays during the trial of Joan of Arc that was put together through a few documents. This is actually a French film where Maria Falconetti plays Joan of Arc and was very good. Carl Theodore Dreyer directed this film which I just can't put into words how much surreal this was with things like the camera angles, camera shots and even the music that was put to the movie. I actually call this bizarre and surreal and it was one of the few silents that just absolutely kept my attention from beginning to end. There was also a very interesting scene where a mother was actually breast feeding.
Planet of the Apes (1968): I wanted to include one in the series and it was between this one and the latest RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES but in the end I settled on the one that started it all. Charlton Heston stars as Taylor, who with two other astronauts crash lands on a near distant future where they find that apes are the dominant species and that humans are enslaved. They are then captured and enslaved themselves and Taylor does what he can to escape. He makes friends with the nice apes Cornelius and Zera, played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter, as well as the very beautiful Nova, played by Linda Harrison. On THE SIMPSONS, they managed to make this into a musical with Troy McClure as Taylor. I guess this genre is sci-fi but are we really sure? Is this what the author of the novel Pierre Boulee predicted. This has spawned many sequels, some tv shows, a Tim Burton remake, and a more successful reboot that is starting off really good. The latest one also was very compelling to me especially the way it ends but it just cannot top the first in this situation.
Pocahontas (1995): With Disney, I have always favored the 90s which put out some really good films and always favored the music in that particular era. I thought about it and settled upon this one to feature for this edition. Disney tells the story of the real-life Indian girl of the title, voiced by Irene Bedard and sung by Judy Kuhn. She is part of the Algonquin tribe and is a rather free-spirited girl whose father is making her marry the warrior of the family and does not want to marry. Mel Gibson voices John Smith who is part of a group of English sailors and soldiers going into the "new world" lead by the corrupt Governor Ratcliffe, voiced by David Ogden Stiers. Pocahontas and John Smith soon meet and form a relationship though on much different sides which are in danger of war which the two try to prevent. A lot of people cite this as very historically inaccurate but I don't think it's any more inaccurate than other stories being told. I believe a lot of this is a good statement towards the fearing of the unknown where the white man feared the Indian tribe and vice versa. It also really focuses on the price of hatred like with the song SAVAGES which was sung by both sides. There are also a lot of other really good musical numbers written by the great team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Gibson also does a really good job and has a pretty good singing voice. This is really my favorite of this era I cite as my favorite Disney era. Christian Bale, Linda Hunt, and Billy Connolly also lend their voices to this film.
The Princess and the Frog (2009): I decided to follow up with some later Disney. I saw this for the first time when it was in theaters after a rehearsal for A TIME FOR CHRISTMAS. Lisa said she was going to I thought it might be good so I went too and we both left happy. This is Disney returning to tradition of paper animation and having a good message. This movie expands on their concept of how when wishing upon a star and a dream comes true. This talks about how you can wish but the star can only get you so far and that hard work is required to achieve dreams. So this movie is set in the Jazz era of New Orleans where a very hardworking girl named Tiana, voiced by Anika Noni Rose, dreams of owning her own restaurant but must work a low-end waitress job first. Tiana is now billed as Disney's first black Disney princess but she is not officially a princess in this movie. The other story is on Prince Naveen, voiced by Bruno Campos, who has been cut off by his parents. Naveen then meets voodoo man Dr. Facilier who offers him a lot but in the end turns him into a frog. With Prince Naveen being a frog, he desperately seeks to be human again. Tiana then encounters this frog and has always heard the great stories of kissing a frog to become human again but when it happens we have the opposite effect and they are both frogs. Tiana and Prince Naveen must then work together to become human again. This movie is quite possibly Disney's best and has some great songs written by Randy Newman who also provides one of the voices.
The Producers (1968): This is my favorite Mel Brooks film. Zero Mostel stars as struggling theater producer Max Bialystock. He then meets Leo Bloom, played by Gene Wilder, who is an accountant and looking over his books. They then stumble upon a scam to make more money by producing a flop. They find a musical called SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER which they are sure will offend everyone and make them want to walk out but instead it turns out to be a big success which is not good for them in this situation. This was made into a musical which first starred Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. I have also been in this as a member of the chorus at the Guyer Opera House.
Red Rock West (1993): This is the movie that I say is Nicolas Cage's best and yet it is so unknown. John Dahl directed and co-wrote this film along with his brother Rick Dahl. Cage stars as drifter Michael Williams who is looking for work but finds it very hard. He is passing through a small town where he is mistaken by Sheriff Wayne Brown, played by J.T. Walsh, as the hitman he is hiring to kill his unfaithful wife Suzanne, played by Lara Flynn Boyle. He takes the money and goes to warn Suzanne who in turn gives him money to off Wayne. Things really heat up when the real hitman Lyle, played by Dennis Hopper, hits town. This is a very compelling film with a lot of really good twists and turns. Lots of very interesting characters and if you can suspend some disbelief for awhile it is a very enjoyable movie to say the least.
Rent (2005): This is a movie which I can watch a lot and the music just always stays in me. This is a Pulitzer and Tony-award winning musical that takes place in New York during the AIDS crisis and focuses on six friends during some very hard times. Christopher Columbus directed this musical which actually retained most of the actors from the musical except Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms but she would go onto play the part on the final run of Broadway. Anthony Rapp plays Mark who is a struggling filmmaker and Adam Pascal plays Roger who is trying to write that one hit song but struggles in his poor conditions. Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Wilson Heredia, and Taye Diggs also co-star. I remember Fishers, IN doing the first community theater run in Indiana and I really wanted to do it but did not get the part. There are lots of catchy tunes in this musical which is in some ways more of a rock musical.
Reservoir Dogs (1992): This is Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut and this has always remained my favorite no matter how much people will likely disagree. Lawrence Tierney stars as Joe who puts together a perfectly planned heist that include Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Eddie Bunker, Michael Madsen, and Tarantino himself. They are all people who do not know each other and makes a rule not to give each other their names or any other personal info by giving them colors for names. Chris Penn co-stars as Joe's son Nice Guy Eddie who also really adds to the film. The heist goes very wrong where they must piece together what happened where tensions flare to the core. This takes place in flashbacks of some of the characters and the aftermath of the robbery. It has one of my favorite opening scenes where they are at a cafe and Tarantino is explaining to us what Madonna's song LIKE A VIRGIN is about. It also has a torture scene where I cant help but be amused where Michael Madsen is singing STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU while performing torture on a cop. This had a very good cast, script, and direction and i one I can easily watch over and over.
Rocky (1976): This is one I never tire of and enjoy most of the series. Sylvester Stallone stars as boxer Rocky Balboa who is a local boxer in Philadelphia. Champion boxer Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, decides that since he is in the land of freedom, he wants to give a local fighter a shot and the championship. When going through fighters, Apollo is drawn to the nickname "Italian Stallion" and gives Rocky that once in a lifetime shot. Creed assumes it will be a quick one but Balboa trains under his manager Mick, played by Burgess Meredith, to give Creed a fight. Talia Shire co-stars as the shy Adrian who Rocky helps bring out of her shell and forms a relationship. Sylvester Stallone wrote this film and was in a down and out situation at the time and had not found success yet as an actor. When Stallone presented his script, it was very liked but producers did not want an unknown actor like him to star and wanted someone like Robert Redford, Ryan O'Neal, or Burt Reynolds. Stallone refused to sell his script unless he could star in it and it was so much liked that the producers caved in but for a lesser budget. This was the right thing and this movie made the career of Stallone. There would then go onto become 5 sequels that would include Mr. T and Dolph Lungren. It also has one of the best music scores of all time from Bill Conti and is one that can motivate even the laziest of people. This has gone onto quite possibly be the best inspirational film of all time. I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Ashley is Philadelphia and seeing the Rocky statue. In my visit, I didn't really care about most tour landmarks as I was really there to visit by friend but I obsessed over the statue and got to run up the steps. I am also curious to one day see the Broadway musical. This is a really good series of films in which I exclude the 5th one but the ones before and the last one make part of one of my favorite series of film.
Romeo and Juliet (1968): This has always been my favorite Shakespeare story and this version has always really stuck out with me over the years. Franco Zeffirelli directed this adaptation of the bard's classic. Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were very well cast as the star crossed lovers of Verona. Romeo is part of the Montague family and Juliet is part of the Capulets which are the rivals of the Montagues. They immediately fall in love and know they must keep it secret which leads to a lot of tragedy. This is the only Shakespeare play I have ever been in where I played Paris who wants to marry Juliet but obviously she does not want to marry. So much of this worked like the music score by Nino Rota and the song sung during the party WHAT IS A YOUTH. A young Michael York co-stars as the villain Tybalt. I hear some say that this is not a love story which I do not agree with. I believe this is what started the tragic love story. I first saw this as a freshman in high school and have really liked it since then. There is also a split second which shows Juliet's boob which I recall noticing and looked around the classroom where they were pretty attentive but did not respond realizing the teacher did the right thing by just letting it go. This works on many levels and really like it even as a limited fan of Shakespeare.
Ryan (2004): This is the shortest selection in this edition which is 13 minutes. This is an animated short but also partly a documentary. Chris Landreth directed this film and talks about animator Ryan Larkin who had some really good animated shorts in the 60s and 70s but dropped off the planet. After talking about his work, he has a sit down discussion even trying an intervention. The animation was very interesting where it symbolized the problems that they had for himself and for Larkin. This can be found on Youtube and really deserves a look. Landreth has some other works on there as well.
Scarface (1932): I like both versions of this film, I know I have featured remakes that I say I prefer over the original but in this situation I think I prefer this version of the film. Howard Hawks directed this film and was through United Artists instead of Warner Brothers which is usually who did gangster films. Paul Muni stars as Tony Camonte who starts out as a common hood but murders his way to the top. Osgood Perkins plays his friend Johnny whose friendship slowly deteriorates the higher up Tony gets. Ann Dvorak co-stars as Cesca who is Tony's sister and that storyline is similar to the 1986 version. George Raft and Boris Karloff co-star in this film. This was a very daring movie to make. The character Tony Camonte was based on Al Capone while Capone was on the rise. There were a few very obvious references to Capone like a scene where similar to the real life St. Valentines Day Massacre. It is said that Capone actually did like this movie and had his own copy. The 1986 version rewrites Tony first of all as Tony Montana and rises to the top of the Cuban drug world and at the time might have the record for saying the F word. I have always believed that Paul Muni never gets the recognition he deserves and this is one of the many that really show it. This is my favorite gangster movie from this era.
1776 (1972): This has become one of my favorite musicals and began to appreciate it even more after I had the pleasure of being in the show myself as Samuel Chase. This is a musical dramatization by Sherman Edwards of the events that lead up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. William Daniels stars John Adams who is determined to become free of British rule but has a hard time convincing much of the others in congress who do not feel it is the right time. Howard Da Silva co-stars and is very amusing as Benjamin Franklin who agrees with Adams but they don't agree on many other things. Ken Howard co-stars as the soft spoken Thomas Jefferson who is appointed to write the declaration. The ones who have the hardest time agreeing are Edward Ruttledge, played by John Collum, of South Caroline and Franklin's Pennsylvania delegate John Dickinson, played by Donald Madden. Blythe Danner co-stars as Martha Jefferson and Virginia Vestoff plays Abigail Adams. This has a lot of really fun musical numbers and is very enjoyable as long as you can get past many moments that were not very historically correct.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994): Frank Darabont directed this film based on the novel by Stephen King who shows that he can write a good drama just as well as the horror he is known for. Tim Robbins stars as Andy Dufresne who is a successful banker and is framed the the murder of his wife and lover. He ends up in Shawshank prison, where one would think be the last place he would fit in but slowly earns the respect of his fellow prisoners. Morgan Freeman co-stars as Red who is known as the prison entrepreneur and forms a friendship with Andy. Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown, William Sadler, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore, David Proval, Jude Cicconlella, Brian Libby, Jeffrey DeMunn, and many others co-star in this film. For being a prison movie, this is surprisingly rather inspirational. Robbins and Freeman work very well together in their friendship and Gunton is good as the corrupt warden. Freeman has named this as one of his favorites. It is one that was a modest hit at the box office but gained a big following afterwards.
Shrek (2001): This was a great Dreamworks film which like my last movie also focuses some on fearing the unknown. Mike Myers does the voice of an ogre of the title name who wanted to be friends with society but was rejected because people felt he was ugly and hideous. John Lithgow does the voice of Lord Farquaad, who banishes many fairy tale characters and a donkey to Shrek's swamp. Eddie Murphy does the voice of Donkey who is very annoying but very noble. Shrek is not happy that his swamp is being over-populated and Farquaad sends Shrek on a journey to rescue Princess Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz. Shrek and Fiona slowly form their relationship but it remains very uneasy for both of them while Fiona is trying to protect her own secret. This is a great animated film with some hilarious references to the fairy tale world and has spawned quite a franchise of sequels, short films, and even a stage musical. Myers is great as the voice of Shrek.
The Silver Linings Playbook (2012): I recall referring to this one as my favorite of that year. David O. Russell directed this film which was adapted from a Matthew Quick novel. Bradley Cooper stars as former teacher Pat Solitano Jr. who has just been released from a mental institution for his bi-polar disorder and beating up the lover of his wife Nikki who has since put a restraining order on him. He moves back with his parents and tries to reconnect with them and hopes to reconnect with his wife. Robert De Niro is great as his football crazed father and Jacki Weaver is good as his mother. In his hoping to reconnect with his wife, he meets a girl named Tiffany, played very well by Jennifer Lawrence, through some of his friends and form a bit of a love/hate relationship. Tiffany has issues of her own but together, they begin to help each other making Pat see things a bit different. Cooper appears to finally be getting out of his HANGOVER typecast in this very good performance. Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, Dash Mihok, among others co-star in this well-done independent film. Going into this, I honestly did not really know what to expect or what the movie was really about but really liked it. I liked that it took place in Philadelphia after I had visited my friend Ashley out there. I also liked Tucker more than I have in a more toned down role. I know some who did not care for this but everything worked in my book. The acting, story, and characters made this a great watch for me and feel it has deserved all the awards it has been given.
A Simple Plan (1998): Sam Raimi directed this film where three friends come across a crashed plane to find a bag full of money. Bill Paxton stars as Hank who is one of them along with his brother Jacob, played by Billy Bob Thornton, and Lou, played by Brent Briscoe. They come up with a plan to split the money which they thought was a simple plan but the tensions and mistrust between each others did not make it simple at all. Bridget Fonda co-stars as Hank's wife Sarah who seems to be the most for keeping the money. Chelcie Ross, Becky Ann Baker, Gary Cole, and many others star in this film. This does a really good job showing how even people of good nature can do bad things in the way of greed. When watching this, one must wonder what they might do if they found this great bag of money but at a high price. This has a really good script, good performances and some suspenseful moments.
Sin City (2005): Robert Rodriguez, along with Frank Miller and a guest spot from Quentin Tarantino directed this film based on the graphic novel from co-director Frank Miller. This takes place in the very bleak town of Basin City and focuses on three tough male characters who must deal with the corruption of the police force and politicians. Bruce Willis plays Hartigan who is a police officer who is about to retire but looks to do what he can to save a little girl from kidnappers. He seems to be the only police officer that is not corrupt in that town and pays a big price. Mickey Rourke plays rough yet compassionate ex-con Marv who is framed for the murder of a woman he loved and was very nice to him. He must also deal with all the corruption. Clive Owen co-stars as Marv who is a love to Shelley, played by Brittany Murphy, and must deal with her abusive ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy, played by Benicio Del Toro, who is a pretty powerful person himself. I'm not really sure what Marv's story is in this movie. I remember first seeing the previews and immediately recognizing Mickey Rourke even behind the heavy make-up and exaggerated chin. As many know I am a big fan of Rourke and at the time this was billed as his "comeback movie" when years later THE WRESTLER was referred to as such. I feel this one got him about 75% of the circle while THE WRESTLER took him the rest of the way. Many other actors make their way into the film like Elijah Wood, Jessica Alba, Michael Madsen, Alexis Bledel, Nick Stahl, and many others. This is a rather bleak film and very violent but a very intriguing and entertaining film. I liked the way this was filmed though feel it has become a bit overdone.
Skyfall (2012): I have grown up as a big James Bond fan and find good in all the actors. I have always been that minority that really likes the darker portrayals from Timothy Dalton but since Daniel Craig has come onto the scene he has been my favorite and the man I have chosen to play me in THE RISE AND FALL OF SHAUN BERKEY. This is his third outing as Agent 007 and the best and as far as I'm concerned the best of the series. Since Craig has taken the helm it has in a sense been a reboot where in this movie they dig a little deeper into his past. One of the main focuses of the Craig era has been the relationship between him and M, reprised by Judi Dench, and goes even more in-depth when learning some of her own past. Javier Bardem co-stars as the villain Silva whose motives are yet to be revealed. Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Ola Rapace, Rory Kinnear, and many others co-star in this film. It has a really good action sequence that takes place in a childhood home of 007 and has help from Finney. This is a really good entry that just keeps you in from the very beginning up to a really good ending and the movie just has it all. There is also a really good theme song from Adele.
Sling Blade (1996): Billy Bob Thornton directed, wrote, and stars in this film. He plays Karl Childers who has been in a mental hospital for many years after killing his abusive mother and her boyfriend and is soon to be released. He returns to his hometown and is able to get work fixing motors. He soon meets a young boy named Frank, played by Lucas Black, who become friends and along with his mother Linda, played by Natalie Canerday, invite Karl to stay at their home. He finally is finding some peace in his life until Linda's abusive boyfriend Doyle, played in country singer Dwight Yoakam in a very good performance, comes into the picture. John Ritter is nearly unrecognizable as Linda's gay friend Vaughan and I didn't even know it was him until after I already saw it. Robert Duvall has a notable cameo in the film. This has always been my favorite from Billy Bob Thornton who is great as the mentally disabled Karl. It was a great simple story that was made by a really good script and well-written characters. I also found on imdb that this is also a play and I would love to see a theater around me pick this one up. This was also a short film in 1994 called SOME FOLKS CALL IT SLING BLADE which shows the beginning scene where Molly Ringwald plays the reporter.
Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back (1980): I knew I needed to include one of these but after some careful thinking I decided upon this one. Irvin Kershner directed the continuation of the George Lucas space opera where we rejoin our friends and we meet some new ones. Han Solo, reprised by Harrison Ford, Princess Leia, voiced by Carried Fisher, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 must evade capture from an intergalactic bounty hunter named Boba Fett and from the surviving Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones. Luke Skywalker must seek Yoda the Jedi Master for his Jedi training. We this time introduce Yoda, voiced by Frank Oz, and Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams. This is one where we learn the connection between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. I am looking forward to the new Star Wars coming out in December. Most know this is the second in the series and the favorite to many.
Stop Making Sense (1984): Jonathan Demme directed this concert film on the Talking Heads. There are all kinds of changes happening on stage with some really good performances from the band. This is considered by many to be the best best concert film of all time. There are a lot of really cool things that are happening on stage like with the lighting and backdrops. We also get to see David Byrne in that really large suit. Demme and the Talking Heads struck gold on this one. Anyone who is at least a casual fan of the Talking Heads will love this one.
Strangers on a Train (1951): I must include something from "The Master of Suspense" and this one is my favorite Hitchcock film. Farley Granger plays tennis pro Guy Haines and Robert Walker plays psychotic socialite Bruno Anthony. They have their meeting on a train where Bruno wants to kill his father but knows he cannot due to his motives. He then has a crazy scheme where they "swap murders". Guy who is having marital problems takes this as a joke but Bruno is very serious about it. Ruth Roman, Patricia Hitchcock, and Leo G. Carroll co-star in this film. This is a great dark comedy and an idea used for the Billy Crystal film THROW MAMA FROM A TRAIN and a few others. It also leads into a great climax at a carousel.
Sunset Boulevard (1950): Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote this film noir against the backdrop on Hollywood and the ultimate Hollywood film in my opinion. William Holden stars as struggling writer Joe Gillis who has car problems and by chance finds himself at the home of silent screen goddess Norma Desmond, played to perfection by Gloria Swanson, who at one time had it all but is now a has been who cannot let go of the fame. She begins to believe that she can get Joe to write something for her to get her back in the spotlight. Erich Von Stroheim co-stars as Norma's loyal butler Max who is very significant to this story. Nancy Olson, Jack Webb, Cecille B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, Anna Nilsson, and many others co-star or having cameos as themselves. This is a very dark look at the world of Hollywood and how sound ruined the careers of many silent film actors out there.
Take the Money and Run (1969): I decided to include this much earlier and unknown Woody Allen comedy in this. Allen directed and co-wrote this early film that would really go onto become known as the "mockumentary". Allen stars as Virgil Starkwell who is a very incompetent and inept criminal and well as a bad musician which is kind of what drove him to a life of crime. Janet Margolin co-stars as Louise who is Virgil's love interest giving him very unconditional love. The movie is shot like a documentary and has some really funny scenes like a homage to an actual jail escape from John Dillinger and Woody Allen trying to play the tuba in a parade. I know Allen went onto do some far more successful films but this one still stays with me more than any other one. I also believe that even a non-Woody Allen fan might enjoy this one.
Taxi Driver (1976): Martin Scorsese directed this film taking place in the dark New York area. Robert De Niro stars as the unstable Travis Bickle who gets a job of a taxi driver working the graveyard shift. He begins to take an interest to the pre-teen hooker Iris, played by Jodie Foster, who he tries to save from her pimp Sport, played by Harvey Keitel. Cybill Shepherd co-stars as his love interest but finds that he is not the best with the ladies on where he likes to go for dates. Peter Boyle and Albert Brooks co-star in this film. De Niro has his infamous "You talking to me" monologue in front of the mirror. It all leads up to a rather violent climax and has a really interesting ending. De Niro plays Bickle to perfection and have always enjoyed this movie on many levels.
Terminator (1984): James Cameron directed and co-wrote this very innovative sci-fi film. Linda Hamilton stars as Sarah Connor who lives a simple life as a small-town waitress and is targeted by a ruthless cyborg, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the future. She learns from another man sent from the future Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, who informs her that her son will lead the resistance against the rise of the machines and that the cyborg is looking to kill her before her son is born. Biehn protects her against the cyborg. Schwarzenegger is pretty good as the cyborg where he does a really good job of being unemotional, something I'm not sure I could accomplish. Lance Henriksen, Rick Rossovich, and Paul Winfield co-star in this sci-fi film. Also, Bill Paxton has a bit part as one of the punks who messed with the wrong man. They did a really good sequel in 1992 but the franchise has never returned to the glory of this one.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): Robert Mulligan directed this adaptation from the classic novel by Harper Lee. This takes place in the depression era south and the main part of the story is of a black man on trial for rape and because of the racism of this era and location he is automatically guilty. Gregory Peck stars as the noble attorney Atticus Finch who defends Tom Robinson, played by Brock Peters, whose innocence is very obvious but because he is black it does not matter. It is from the point of view of his daughter Scout, played by Mary Badham, who is a six year old girl living her childhood along with her older brother Jem, played by Philip Alford. A lot of this movie is Scout trying to understand the messages of her father. Robert Duvall makes his debut as Boo Radley. This is a very good depiction of a segregated south that is one of the best movie adaptations of a book. Just about any school reads this book and watches this movie to this day because the messages are so timeless like of acceptance of others. The scene that always moves me to tears is when Atticus is leaving the courtroom and all the black men in the balcony stand up out of respect of his efforts. Many people believe that Harper Lee was reclusive which is not really true, it was just that she never needed to publish another book after this book and movie became so successful that she lives off the success to this day. A good double feature on this would be to start with this and then watch a really good documentary called HEY BOO: HARPER LEE AND 'TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD'.
Tropic Thunder (2008): Ben Stiller directed this comedy where he stars as actor Tugg Speedman whose career is on the decline. Jack Black plays Jeff Portnoy who is an actor known for his crude and low-brow humor. Robert Downey Jr. plays Kirk Lazarus, an actor willing to do just about anything to get a part. Together, they are in a serious war film which turns much more real than what they expected. Downey was great as Lazarus who decides to turn his skin black so he can get the part of the African-American where he stays in character throughout the movie doing quite the imatation of a black man. I really did not find his portrayal as racist which I'm sure some did as I feel it was done pretty tastefully and I'm sure the Wayans got much less heat for playing white girls. What I liked most is Robert Downey Jr. who is a method actor who is playing a method actor. The other two also hold their own in their efforts to stay alive in Southeast Asia. Tom Cruise was rather amusing as the movie studio big shot who really only cared about money. He looked much different than usual and was a good supporting role for him. Others include Matthew McConaughey, Nick Nolte, Brandon T. Jackson, and many others. I really enjoyed this violent comedy and found it to be very clever. The beginning consists of some good "previews" from the fictional actors with some more cameos.
12 Angry Men (1957): Sidney Lumet directed this film that takes place the whole film in the jury room. Henry Fonda stars as Juror #8 who has doubts about the defendant's guilt and is at first the only juror that votes not guilty. He slowly tries to change the mind of all of them. This is one of my favorites from this era. It does a great job of displaying the tension of each person. Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, and Robert Webb play the other jurors. This is one that I auditioned for as a play but unfortunately did not get a part. This has some great performances and direction and is always watchable for me.
Waiting for Guffman (1996): I always say this is the ultimate community theater film. Christopher Guest directed and co-wrote this mockumentary. He also stars as aspiring director Corky St. Clair who ends up in a small Missouri town and decides to put on a local musical about the history of the town. His cast is a marginally talented group of locals and learns that a theater critic named Guffman will come to opening night. Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Larry Miller, Parker Posey, David Cross, Bob Balaban, Paul Dooley, Lewis Arquette, Brian Doyle-Murray, Miriam Flynn, Paul Benedict, and many others co-star in this comedy. Most of this cast was in the later and more popular BEST IN SHOW which was a mockumentary on a dog show which was very funny to me but this one still holds that place in my heart as a community theater actor myself.
Waking the Dead (2000): Keith Gordon directed this independent film based on the novel by Scott Spencer. This takes place in two eras both of which are about 10 years apart. Billy Crudup stars as Fielding Pierce who starts out as a law student and aspiring politician. In the process he meets and falls in love with Sarah Williams, played by Connelly, who is more the activist and the opposite of Fielding but he loves her anyway. She is soon killed in an explosion while trying to help the Chilean resistance. About a decade later, Fielding has become pretty successful as an attorney and is running for congress. Things begin to get very complicated when he believes he sees Sarah being alive. The movie goes back and forth on both eras. Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, Janet McTeer, Molly Parker, John Carroll Lynch, Sandra Oh, and many others co-star in this film. I am really glad to include this film and is ranked up as one of my favorites. The two stars do a great job and for me it was a very beautiful story. I guess this can be considered a love story but one that is very complex and there is far more to it. Just when I thought it could not get better, I hear the Peter Gabriel song MERCY STREET at the end. They also did a good job of going between the two eras and a really good ending. This is a very underrated gem and really deserves a look.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988): This is the ultimate blend of real-life and animation. Bob Hoskins plays a very bitter detective Eddie Valiant who has a prejudice towards toons. Roger Rabbit is the prime suspect of the murder of studio head Marvin Acme and Eddie becomes his only hope to clear his name. Christopher Lloyd co-stars as Judge Doom who also does not like toons. Robert Zemeckis directed this film which integrates Disney and Looney Tunes characters like the priceless scene between Daffy and Donald Duck, also a scene where Mickey and Bugs are together as well as many classic animation characters both known and some forgotten. There are also some newer characters like title character, the beautiful Jessica Rabbit who is Roger's human wife, and the foul-mouthed Baby Herman. This is the best toon-noir of all time or maybe it's the only one. Whatever it is, it was quite groundbreaking.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971): This is one of my favorite musicals which stars Gene Wilder as the title character. As the classic story goes, Willy Wonka has closed his factory for years but decides to reopen and give five lucky children a tour of his chocolate factory. Peter Ostrum stars as Charlie Bucket who is one of the winners and the one who is very poor but rich in the love for his family. The other kids are very spoiled in various ways and learn the hard way that you should follow the rules. I really liked the music in this film but even more I like the way the story was quite dark but did not have to emphasize it with cinematography the way Tim Burton did in his remake. I know I prefer the Oompa Loompas in this version over Burton's movie. Jack Albertson was also very good as Charlie's very caring grandfather.
Winged Migration (2001): I have told this story on a few occasions how I came about seeing this for the first time. It was years ago when I was with my dad and stepmom and dad insisted on going to a theater in his town of Columbus at the time called Key's Cinema I believe which was an independent theater.. I was along for the ride and he kept us in the dark about what we were seeing. When arriving, I find we are about to watch some movie about birds and I'm thinking "what am I doing here" which is probably what Dad was expecting and why he would not tell me anything. I went along and as I'm watching I was surprised by how much I was enjoying it. It is a documentary filming birds on all seven continents when migrating. This took about three years to film and was amazed by the footage that everyone got. In addition to the amazing footage, there was also a very good music score and soundtrack that went along perfectly with the birds. If it could not get any better, it ends with a Nick Cave song. Jacques Perrin directed this film and accomplished an amazing while underrated documentary.
The Wrestler (2008): When I first heard about this movie, it was hard to contain my excitement. When I first saw the title I for a moment thought "Oh another READY TO RUMBLE and NO HOLDS BARRED" but when I read into it more, I realized this is a drama about wrestling which stars none other than Mickey Rourke so that enhanced my interest in addition to being a fan and as someone who has had involvement in the industry. Darren Aronofsky directed this film which is really more of a character study than anything. Rourke stars as wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson who is past his prime but cannot get out of the industry and still working for smaller promotions while working at a grocery store. Even in his deteriorating health, he still has delusions of getting back on top with a rematch from years ago against his rival the Ayatollah, played by real life wrestler Ernest Miller known as the Cat in WCW. Marisa Tomei co-stars as Pam who works at a strip club that Randy frequents and while he likes her, she has a rule for herself against dating customers. Evan Rachel Wood co-stars as Stephanie who is Randy's estranged daughter that he is trying to reconnect with after so many years. This is a character who probably had some success in the 80s but then burned bridges with things like his drug problems. At one point, Nicolas Cage was cast in this role due to producers not believing Rourke can draw money. Cage pulled out and Aronofsky was able to cast Rourke which was who he always wanted. I am grateful to Nicolas Cage for pulling out and I'm really not that anti-Nicolas Cage but know that Rourke was just perfect for this part. I also believe that Aronofsky did a good job of casting Rourke and Wood as father and daughter. I'm not sure if it was intentional but I notice Evan Rachel Wood has a pointed chin like Rourke. Tomei and Wood did good in their supporting parts. The wrestlers that fought and that were backstage were all actual wrestlers. For those who do not know, I have worked for some independent wrestling promotions as a ring announcer and at one point even a managerial character. I have met many people like Randy Robinson and it was a pretty accurate movie regarding wrestling which can be a rather dark world. Even if you do not like wrestling, this is something that can still be enjoyed. There have been some complaints about how it ended but I won't spoil it but encourage you to message me and discuss it.
Well, that is it for this week. Next week, I go back to normal and will do one like this again in another five years as long as I'm still able to do this and I've done it this long so I don't see myself slowing down anytime soon. Stay tuned for next week.