The Movie That Invented The Coming of Age Genre

When a flake of snow hits UK soil – the whole island is put on hiatus. So it was pretty befitting that I’d catch up on my AFI challenge and watch a classic movie this weekend (as the inch of snow forced me to stay in),  plus I haven’t posted on here for a year and a half – so it’s about time I attempt at doing this bloody list again.

As it was Oscars weekend I thought I’d check out ‘The Graduate’ (1967: ‘98 #7, ‘03 #17).  One of the most iconic coming of age movies that was the last to win only for Best Director at the Academy awards (bit of trivia for you). And when I say this film is iconic, I mean it in every sense of the word. Even though I never had seen it before this weekend – I pretty much knew the whole plot, some of the key quotes and the soundtrack, which is why it is ranked so highly in on the 1998 and 2007 lists. But other than having a huge cultural impact, does the film have the credentials to be ranked so highly with ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) and ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)?

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The Graduate (1967)

The storyline is pretty straight forward; a talented graduate (Dustin Hoffman) from a middle class family, but with no sense of direction, begins an affair with an older family friend (Anne Bancroft) only to fall in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross). A tame plot by today’s standards, but Bancroft’s nude scene raised a few eyebrows at the time and age difference of 20 years between her and Hoffman’s character made the movie pretty controversial at the time. People probably wouldn’t have battered an eye lid if the male character was 20 years senior than the female. No one seemed to care when Grant was wooing a much younger Hepburn in ‘Charade’ (1963) and despite a twenty-five year age gap, Bacall and Bogart’s romance celebrated romance on and off the screen. Hypocrisy is today still prevalent as Best Picture nominee ‘Call me By Your Name’ (2017) has been criticised (by mostly straight white males, including James Wood) for the age gap of just a six years between the two gay characters. But star of the Academy Award winning film Armie Hammer brilliantly highlighted our double standard society by kindly reminding Woods that he dated a 19 year old when he was 60.

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Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman

But back to ‘The Graduate’; yes, it was a risky plot at the time and yes, it perhaps invented the coming of age genre. But Hoffman’s character comes across as such a self-absorbed selfish brat who doesn’t seem to have the slightest concern his actions are destroying a family – that he is hard to like. That being said Hoffman plays the part brilliantly and his awkwardness brings in subtle comedy to the movie. He even at times, when not being an arrogant punk, displays endearing and charming qualities of the arguably the greatest literary character of the twentieth-century; Holden Caulfield from ‘Catcher in the Rye’ (1951). In fact I’m almost certain that Benjamin Braddock was inspired by the protagonist in J.D Salinger’s masterpiece.

It’s hard to think of anyone other than super seductive Anne Bancroft playing the role of Mrs. Robinson. Her iconic husky and commanding voice brought some of the most memorable one liners to modern cinema, it’s crazy that the role could have gone to Joan Crawford or ‘Murder She Wrote’ star Angela Lansbury. At times Mrs. Robinson can be a bit annoying and her nonchalant attitude at the beginning of the movie makes it hard for you to have empathy for her. But toward the end of the film, you definitely see her more as a victim and can sympathise with her for having a loveless marriage.

‘The Graduate’ trailer

The unforgettable ending, which has probably been recreated by every soap in the last fifty-years (as well as famous Renault Clio advert from the 90s) alone qualifies the classic to be in AFI top 100 films of all time, but it is suited to its 2007 ranking of #17 rather than top ten position in the 1998 list.

For its superb cast, iconic quotes, invention of the coming of age genre and soundtrack that sets the mood for the movie – I give ‘The Graduate’ 4 out of 5.

 

 

Historical Blockbuster Done Right

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a movie from the 1930s for the AFI challenge so I’d thought I’d take it way back to 1935 for the iconic ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ based on a true story (1935: AFI 1998 #86) staring the George Clooney of the Golden Era Clarke Gable (because the Cary Grant comparisons are absurd – there will never be another actor as effortlessly charming as Grant) playing Fletcher Christian and British theatre star Charles Laughton as villainous Captain William Bligh (yup, they again chose a Brit to play the most hated man in the movie). I actually think that this maybe (correct me if I’m wrong) but the oldest film I have reviewed so far – although I managed to catch Buster Keaton’s silent farcical classic ‘The General’ (1926: AFI 2007 #18) a while back but haven’t managed to write about it because I hope to compare it to Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ (1936 AFI 1998 #81, 2007#78) which I’ve yet to see.

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Clarke Gable and Tahitian love interest Mamo Clarke

‘Mutiny’ is a legendary story of how Lieutenant Fletcher of HMS Bounty stages a revolt after witnessing Captain Bligh’s cruel and brutal treatment of his officers and crew on the long voyage to Tahiti in 1787. As a history minor graduate I had heard of this infamous tale, but I decided to take elective’s on the History of Sport and The French Revolution so it never made my syllabus, so I’m not sure if it is historically accurate. However, the fact that central character Roger Byam (played by Franchot Tone) who faces a moral dilemma of obeying his tyrant Captain or following his friend Fletcher into the mutiny was not a real character but based on midshipman Peter Haywood suggests that those wanting to use the flick as a point of reference before their history exam on the event may find that their grade is not as high as they’d hope. And although Captain Bligh has a reputation of being a tormenter he did not flog any of his crew to their death as the film depicts.

‘The Mutiny on the Bounty’ 1935 trailer

The historic event has had such a huge interest over the years that it has been made into a major movie five times – twice before the Gable version and twice after. There has always been a fascination with how or why the revolt took place- was Bligh a sadistic control freak like the 1935 movie depicts? Or was Fletcher and the crew so engulfed in the freedom and sexual liberation they experienced in Tahiti the thought of going back on board to a disciplinary Captain dreaded them so much that they took a huge gamble and staged a revolt as many contemporary historians suggest was the real cause of the mutiny.

Documentary on facts vs fiction on ‘The Mutiny on the Bounty’

We may not know the real cause of the conflict or what really happened when the crew landed in Tahiti (which is now a Honeymooner’s paradise and where the Real Housewives of Beverley Hills spend their summer vacations) but this film does a good job of trying to fill in the gaps. And although it maybe historically inaccurate in some parts – the film is bloody entertaining – I was not expecting to like it so much. It has the suspense of a modern blockbuster and you become so invested in the characters that you are desperate for Bligh (who was voted AFI’s 19th best villain) to have a piece of his own medicine. Charles Laughton who looks like a cross between Boris Johnson and Oscar Wilde is terrific as the ruthless captain who lacks a drop of compassion and Gable comes across as endearing and idealistic that he almost seems like an early prototype of Paul Newman’s character in Cool Hand Luke (1967). I haven’t seen the other versions of this story, but this is the only one that made it into the prestigious AFI top 100 list that it is probably the best version. Even Marlon Brando couldn’t save the 1962 version from it being a huge critical and financial disaster. But it would be interesting to see how Mel Gibson tackles the protagonist and Anthony Hopkins the villain in ‘The Bounty’ (1984).

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Hopkins and Gibson in ‘The Bounty’ (1984)

For Bligh’s and moustacheless Gable’s near perfect performance, the cameo from James Cagney and the jam packed action that inspires blockbuster films to this day – I give ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ a perfect score 5 out 5.

 

The Biggest Romantic Movie of All Time That No One Had Faith In

It’s been a while since I made my last post, but don’t worry I haven’t given up on my AFI Challenge which looks set to take longer than I thought. The truth is I’ve been pretty lazy over the last few months being a man of leisure. But I have managed to catch the ultimate classic movie whilst on my way to Kenya on my first African visit.

The best thing about flying (other than the beaming obvious trip to a destination that is guaranteed to be at least five degrees warmer than London) is I get to catch up on movies I haven’t watched yet as there is pretty much nothing else to do. Despite being a big classic movie fan (who would have thought it) the idea of sitting through more than three hours of Charlton Heston’s overacting in ‘Ben Hur’ doesn’t always fill me with the most excitement. With plane TV screens you feel obliged to watch a movie from start to finish to feel like you are making most of your time in the air. I kind of feel like Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ when his eyes were clamped open when watching the small screen on aircrafts, but with less agony.

I managed to catch some new releases that I wouldn’t dream of watching in the cinema like ‘Southpaw’ which although had an extremely cliché and predictable storyline it had a heartfelt performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Kenya Airways had a questionable classic movie category in their inflight entertainment, which included masterpieces like the intellectually simulating ‘The Hangover’, but I think they used the term loosely to describe anything that wasn’t released within last twelve months. They got it right with two movies – ‘Northby Northwest’ (1959, AFI 1998 #40, 2007 #55) and ‘Casablanca’ (1942, AFI: 1998 #2, 2007 #3) – I’ve seen these bonafide classic movies before, but as I’ve already reviewed the Hitchcock masterpiece I thought I’d re-familiarise regularly with the most famous romantic movie of all time.

7oth Anniversary trailer for ‘Casablanca’

It’s hard to believe that the most iconic on screen romance all time was considered a side project for movie executives at Warner Bros – despite the flick having two of the biggest stars at the time Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman insiders thought it wouldn’t be a hit – there were even rumours that the script was incomplete when filming and so at times the actors had to improvise – with the huge budgets Hollywood films have nowadays this would simply be unheard of.  So why did this film with a relatively straight forward storyline, which was filmed mostly in a bar and one that people that little expectations of become the greatest love story of all time?

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Bogart must choose between his former lover and helping her husband

The movie which was directed by Michael Curtiz tells the story of American expatriate (Rick Blaine played by Bogart) who runs a successful casino and nightclub in Casablanca during World War Two. His world turns upside down when his former lover Ilsa Lund (Bergman) comes back into his life after abandoning him without explanation, but this time she is with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) who is a notorious Czech-resistance leader on the run from the Nazis. Blaine must decide whether to help this man escape or to be with the woman he loves.

For me it’s pretty hard to pinpoint what made this black and white classic such a timeless piece that people of all ages flock to see when played at the outdoor cinema at Somerset House every summer over other romantic masterpieces such as ‘It Happened in One Night’ (1934, AFI 1998 #35, 2007 #46)? Bogart’s cool portrayal of selfless Rick Blaine is so memorable and the character is so likable that the AFI voted him as the fourth greatest hero on the big screen – which definitely separates this movie from other romances over the years. The movie is far from cheesy or soppy and although I’m not a huge fan of Bergman (who looks like she is about to burst into tears in every scene) you can’t deny the chemistry between the who main leads. This along with the beautiful theme song ‘As time goes by’ and the famous, sharp and witty one liners (“Here’s looking a you kid”, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, “We will always have Paris” (is this were the silly American romantic obsession with Paris began?),  “Of all the Gin Joints..”) makes ‘Casablanca’ pretty much a perfect movie – the blueprint for all romances that followed over the last 70 years.

The most famous lines from ‘Casablanca’

The movie which is a concise 108 minutes makes this classic pretty easy viewing compared to ‘Gone with The Wind” (1939, AFI 1998 #4, 2007 #6) or ‘Giant” (1956, AFI 1998 #82) where you have to invest your whole afternoon watching is perhaps another reason why people revisit this romance year after year. I give this culturally significant and iconic movie a 5 out of 5.

 

 

 

 

Introducing Your Partner of a Different Background to Your Parents? Prepare Them With This

Sometimes I get lucky when attempting my challenge of watching all films featured in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time like this weekend when just as I was wondering how I’m going to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon I came across a film which needed to be ticked off my list. Actually my brother came across it after trying to give a Danny Dyer and Martin Kemp flick a shot, but only lasting ten minutes before changing the channel (what did he expect it to be? A masterpiece?). ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner? (1967: AFI, 1998 #99) couldn’t be further away from a British gangster film set in the noughties. Firstly there is hardly any action and most of the movie takes place in one location, the house of Mr and Mrs Drayton played by arguably the greatest screen couple to have ever graced the silver screen; Spencer Tracy and the most successful female Oscar winner of all time (yup, even more successful than Meryl Streep, would you believe?) Katherine Hepburn.

Trailer for the 1967 Oscar winning movie ‘Guess who’s coming to Dinner?

Set in an affluent  white upper middle class neighbourhood  in San Francisco in the 1960s the story centres around the Drayton’s whose liberal tolerance gets tested when their daughter introduces them to her black fiancé played by Sidney Poitier – who is the first black actor to win an Oscar (although not for this role, but ‘Lilies in the Field). The plot is simple and hardly shocking by today’s standards, but for the time when racial tension in North America was at an all time high it was perhaps a surprise that Stanley Kramer’s movie was a critical and commercial success. Even more startling is that it was well received in the notoriously racist Southern States and released just a year before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. There is even a scene where the family’s black maid Tillie who is clearly the most offended by the presence of Poitier sarcastically asks if “The Reverend Martin Luther King” is coming to dinner too?

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Maid Tillie interrogates Poitier

The movie definitely deserves its spot on the AFI’s top 100 films of all time list – it highlights the deep rooted racial prejudices even the most tolerant people have. Kramer wanted to make Poitier’s character Dr. John Wayde Prentice Jr. flawless – he is well educated, respectful and does not believe in sex before marriage – he is a perfect suitor for Joey. The only that is preventing her parents from jumping for joy is that he is black.

The subject matter of this blockbuster is sadly relevant in today’s society. Even though interracial relationships are more common than ever there is a still a stigma attached to them. But naively I was under the impression that in the UK non-black ethnic minorities were the only group who still found it difficult introducing their families to their partner from a different background and that black and white people were better integrated. But after watching the British comedy ‘Chewing Gum (2015)’ I realised some black people found it hard tell their parents they were dating a white person as protagonist Tracey (no relation to Spencer) does throughout the first series. Perhaps roles are reversed and ethnic minorities are now the ones who seem to find it hard to accept other races into their families rather than just white people.

Although ‘Guess who’s coming to Dinner’ had the happy ending we liberal people of the Twenty-First Century hoped for I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that this was Spencer Tracy’s last movie before his death – he died only two weeks after completing the film. So his heartfelt speech where he declares that he accepts the relationship is even more poignant as it feels this is farewell to his onscreen and real life lover Hepburn and to the world as he knew his time was drawing an end.

Spencer Tracy gives his memorable speech weeks before his death

Nevertheless the legacy of Tracy and his unforgettable character Mr Drayton still lives on; not only was his last role considered one of his finest he was also the inspiration for lovable Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s classic animated ‘Up! (2009). For the exceptional characters and acting from the crème a La crème of Hollywood as well as the topic that is still a subject of conversation today  – I give this flick 4.5 out of 5.

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Lead character in ‘Up’ is inspired by Spencer Tracy

The movie can also be a useful tool to show to your parents before bringing someone home they may not approve off as suggested by my brother – I wonder who he’s planning on bringing home to meet the folks

 

Hoffman Blows Childhood Favourite Creation Out of The Water

Long before the late Robin Williams did his best drag impression in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’(1993) Dustin Hoffman arguably played it more convincingly in ‘Tootsie’ (1982: AFI 1996 #62, 2007 #69). Sure Williams had the advantage of superior make-up to effectively disguise his identity, but Hoffman’s character was better developed and it always bugged me that Mrs Doubtfire introduced herself as English rather than Scottish (those darn Americans!) in the 1993 film set in San Francisco based on a book by British author Anne Fine (those darn Americans!).

When I sat down to watch the 1982 Oscar Winning movie for my AFI 100 movie challenge I definitely had my favourite childhood film to compare it to, but to be honest the only similarities are that the protagonists dress up as women to deceive people close to them with hilarious consequences. That’s where the comparison ends.

In ‘Tootsie’ Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey an out of work actor who has a reputation of being difficult so no one in the industry wants to work with him. He hears of a upcoming role in a soap opera and auditions for the part of ‘Dorothy Michaels’ disguised as a woman and wins the part.  Much to Dorsey’s shock his creation becomes an overnight sensation because of ‘her’ feisty and no nonsense attitude. But things get a bit awkward when Dorsey falls for his co-star Julie Nichols played by innocent and timid Jessica Lange. There is even a really cringy scene where Michaels who is meant to be a middle-aged feminist tries to kiss Lange.

Lange and Hoffman get cosy

Although the movie is entertaining and Hoffman is brilliant as the eccentric Michael Dorsey and equally nuts Dorothy Michaels I wondered if the flick was good enough to make it on AFIs list of 100 movies of all time. What separates it from all the other comedies where the main character cross-dresses to trick people? Firstly the script is sharp and punchy and unlike family friendly ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ this film is for the adults. The supporting cast is terrific, Teri Garr (Phoebe’s mum in Friends) plays the ditsy and hopeless romantic acting student of Hoffman and I think she should have taken the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress rather than wooden Jessica Lange.  Bill Murry brings in his typical dry wit dry humour as Hoffman’s roommate in his pre-Ghostbuster superstardom days.

Dustin Hoffman, Terri Garr & Sydney Pollack on the set of ‘Tootsie’

But most importantly Michael Dorsey /Dorothy Michaels is believable and more likable than William’s creation in this Sydney Pollack classic. There are a few flaws in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ that I’ve come to realise as I’ve grown older. Firstly Robin Williams character is pretty much a loser, he lives off his wife, behaves likes a big kid and we are supposed to feel empathy for him when she throws him out? In real life a character like that wouldn’t have the intelligence or guts to pull of Mrs Doubtfire. In fact he would probably break down in tears the moment he steps into his old family home again. Hoffman’s character is a go-getter, a perfectionist who knows what he wants and is ruthless in his pursuit which makes the movie more realistic than the similar plots made before and after the 1982 classic flick. Although one can argue Williams complete and utter dedication towards his children gives him the courage and determination to succeed in his trickery.

Robin Williams On Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Tootsie’ Performance

Dustin Hoffman is perhaps the most underrated performer of his generation. In the 1970s only he and Jack Nicholson were able to immerse themselves in completely different roles in a believable manner. So it’s sometimes frustrating that De Niro and Pacino gets all the praise when most of the time they often played one dimensional characters (but brilliantly nevertheless). For the shear genius of Hoffman who despite having a stellar supporting cast can carry this movie by himself I give ‘Tootsie’ a 4.5 out 5.

How James Dean’s 7 Hours On The Big Screen Made A Lasting Impact

The last day of September this year marked the sixtieth anniversary of the death of on one of the most iconic movie stars to ever grace the screen. I arguably use ‘iconic’ loosely when writing up my experiences of doing the American Film Institute challenge, but James Dean is the epitome of a movie star – even his death from a tragic head on car collision at the age of twenty-four is legendary. People to this day pay their respects to the site where he died in California and I can bet that a large majority of those visitors have never seen a film he had starred in.

Dean was a fan of fast cars

What made this film star who only managed to do three movies in his lifetime and never won an Oscar remembered by critics and the public as one of the all time greats? Two of his movies were featured in the AFI top 100 movies of all time list and he even managed to bag himself a spot in the Top 25 male stars of the Golden Age where he is in the company of much more prolific stars like Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart whose body of work over the years earned them a place on the list. But what separates James Dean from these Hollywood heavyweights is that I can almost guarantee that a casual movie fan will know who Dean is and there is a fair chance they will not have a clue about Bogart or Stewart unless you mention ‘Casablanca’ (1942: AFI 1998#2, 2007 #3) or ‘It’s a Wonderful life’ (1946: AFI 1998 #11, 2007 #20).

It’s a mixture of things that has given James Dean immortality and placed him in the consciousness of all popular culture fans:

1. Firstly like Peter Pan he never grew old – he will always be known for good looking and cool outsider in his most famous role ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ (1955: AFI 1998 #59) and not that difficult and eccentric overweight actor who didn’t bother to learn his lines that Brando became later in his career.

2. He had a timeless style – you could never go wrong with a pair of Levis, a white t-shirt and slick back hair. Unlike stars of the 80’s who had mullets or ridiculously long side burns from the 70s, actors from the 50s had a cool and classic style. James Dean’s look was never dated which is why he is still so marketable and his pictures would not look out-of-place on a teenage girls bedroom wall along with the Channing Tatums and Zac Efrons of today.

3. Finally he was a damn good actor – Although he never received an Academy Award he was nominated twice for East of Eden (1955) and for Giant (1956: AFI: 1998 #82). His portrayal of troubled Jett Rink in ‘Giant’ who was infatuated with Elizabeth Taylor’s character was intense, powerful and showcased his natural acting ability.

Unfortunately Dean would not be able to see the final product of his epic and perhaps most ambitious film as he died before the film was released. But luckily he managed to complete the film co-starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor who were bigger and better known actors at the time. The media hype surrounding Dean’s death propelled the movie to be a huge hit when it was released a year later. The American drama tells the tale of a wealthy Texan family in the 1920s until the Second World War. Dean plays a handyman hired by the Hudson and he soon becomes obsessed with his wife played by Taylor – a love triangle develops and things get more complicated when Dean discovers oil on his small plot of land and becomes filthy rich.

struck it rich!: James Dean in ‘Giant’

I didn’t know much about the plot before I convinced my mum she would like it and to watch it with me, but feared it could have been a Western (you know how I hate those). Thankfully it wasn’t and at times it reminded me of ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939: AFI 1998 #4 2007 #6) for its elaborate storytelling and like the seminal movie starring Clarke Gable you need to set aside the whole morning to complete the movie. The story even highlights racism Mexican immigrants faced in the USA during the first half of the Twentieth Century which often gets overlooked in Hollywood. For the ambitious screenplay, excellent cast and getting a glimpse of how Dean would have looked when he was older I give the movie a 5 out of 5.

Elizabeth Taylor speaks about ‘Giant’ co-stars Dean and Hudson

In contrast ‘A Rebel Without A Cause’ ensures Dean remains youthful as teenager Jim Stark who has trouble fitting into his new high school. He clashes with popular students which results in the famous car race scene that has been redone a thousand times by copycat movies. The chemistry between Natalie Wood and Dean is perhaps more convincing than with Taylor in ‘Giant’.

The movie oozes iconic from the famous ‘tearing me apart’ scene in the police station to the episode in the cinema – it is clear that this film was the prototype of the countless teenager rebellion movies that were released over the last sixty-years. I would argue that Dean’s depiction of complex and perhaps mentally unstable Stark was his most challenging role. This flick is a must see for any fan of cinema – it’s beautifully shot, acted and highly influential – for this reason I also give it 5 out of 5.

A Rebel Without A Cause Trailer

James Dean never got the chance to branch out and attempt roles outside his comfort zone (he seemed to always play the underdog with an emotional past) but to be fair he never had the chance to step outside the box. Would he have been a great musical star or action hero? We will never know, but he has left a huge impact on films and popular culture that most actors would struggle their whole career to achieve and so his films deserve their place on all time great lists.

James Dean and Natalie Wood play troubled teenagers in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’

Where the Four Billion Dollar Movie Franchise Began

In the late nineties when I was a wee lad me and a group of school friends decided to check out the latest Star Wars movie called ‘Episode I: Phantom Menace’ (1999). I didn’t know much about the franchise except that the bad guy in the first picture had a really bad asthma problem, and as the 1999 film was a prequel to the original iconic movies I thought it would be a good place to start my Star Wars viewing journey, especially with all the hype surrounding it. How wrong was I? Not only did I and a few mates fall asleep in the cinema, but during the course of the movie I stumbled across the most annoying character ever created for the big screen – Jar Jar Binx. It’s safe to say I was scarred from the experience and it put me off from seeing the rest of the movies.

So when I saw that the original film entitled ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ (1977: AFI 1998 #15, 2007 #13) was featured on the AFI’s top 100 list of all time I wasn’t best pleased. But with the excitement of the release of the seventh installment Sky Movies had a whole channel dedicated to the released films so I couldn’t avoid it – and on Sunday night after playing Junior Monopoly with niece with a slight hangover I decided with much persuasion from my brother to take the plunge and finally see how it all began. (well in fact it is the chronologically the fourth movie, but the first made – it gets confusing).

Iconic characters on a mission to save Princess Leia

Everyone with some movie cultural awareness is familiar with the opening credits to the original Star Wars movie, so even though I knew what to expect I found the content of the text to be a hard read filled with so many Star Warisms that I had to pause the TV to and re-read the introduction – which was not a good start. What puts me off sci-fi and fantasy films is that they tend to be filled with jargon and terms that is not used in everyday language, so I lose concentration and my mind begins to wonder.

The original Star War movie is considered by some as the best 

But my short expansion span diminished soon after because from the then on the movie was jam packed with action and spectacular special effects which were impressive by today’s standards let alone in the 1970s (although a work colleague and avid Star Wars fan kindly pointed out the effects had been re-worked since the original release, but I’ll choose to ignore that).  The synopsis of the movie is a pretty straightforward good versus evil tale with Hans Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) playing the heroes who are a mission to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the evil Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire.

Darth Vader makes a terrifying entrance 

In my review of American Graffiti (1973: 1998 #77, 2007 #62) which was also directed by Lucas I made the assumption that the characters were more relatable than the ones in Star Wars, for which I was told off for by a friend who said I had to see Sci-fi classic before making such ludicrous comment. Although I hate to admit it I must say he has a point – the best thing about the movie is that pretty much all the characters are strong and help unfold the plot until the very end. Despite previously seeing clips of Darth Vader and knowing that the voice over was Mufasa from the Lion King (1993) he genuinely scared me and the friendship between robots C-3PO and R2-D2 genuinely touched me.

Auditions for the new Star Wars in London 2013

Auditions for the new Star Wars in London 2013

So it’s safe to say my second experience so watching a Star Wars movie was a far more pleasant one – I’m not convinced the movie has transformed me into a massive fan like the millions single fifty-year old men living in their parents spare room, but it has made me regret that I didn’t partake in auditions for the new movie ‘Episode VII: The Force Awakens‘(2015) when they held auditions in Twickenham Stadium and obstructed my parking space outside my gym a few years back. Who knows I might have been a part of biggest movie franchise of all time. For its undeniable cultural significance, innovative special effects and unforgettable characters the picture gets a 4.5 out of 5 from me.

The Funny Side Of The Korean War

As I spend most of my spare time trying to complete the American Film Institute’s list of 100 movies of all time I find that I am out of touch with the latest movie releases – in fact the only time I get to catch a feature that is not in black and white or Technicolor is when I’m on a plane. A few weeks back I went to Canada and to pass the time on the flight (that did not offer me any food for the whole duration, which has to be illegal) I watched ‘American Sniper’ (2014) directed by Dad’s idol Clint Eastwood

War films about recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan like ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (2012) don’t have the same thrill as movies made about World War Two or the Vietnam War. There is nothing more exiting watching Guerrilla warfare taking place in an exotic but terrifying jungle in films like ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) and ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979: AFI 1998 #28 2007#30) rather than a dusty and concrete setting of a modern conflict. And although there were several moments of suspense in blockbuster staring Bradley Cooper I felt underwhelmed just as I did when I watched M*A*S*H* (1970: AFI 1998 #56, 2007 #54) which takes a more humorous approach when looking at The Korean War.

To be honest I didn’t have high expectations before I viewed the movie, I remember I often got annoyed when The Paramount Channel played marathons of the TV version (1972- 1983) of the hit film when all I wanted to watch was ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ (1996 – 2005). So I had a pretty biased view of the franchise before I got to see the full length feature which starts Donald Sutherland and Tom Skerritt as doctors Hawkeye and Duke who are stationed at an Army Surgical Hospital in Korea during US conflict.

Classic War Movie – M*A*S*H*

The mischievous and womanising behaviour of the two talented surgeons brings light relief to a subject matter that is often tackled in more serious manner, but at times I thought I was watching a ‘Carry on’ Movie and I half expecting Sutherland to shout out ‘Oh Matron!’ I even saw aspects of the Police Academy movies when the two characters play childish pranks on the rival Frank Burns.

Although the movie takes a satirical approach to the Korean conflict there is a serious undertone throughout the picture; despite Hawkeye’s and Duke’s reckless and childish behaviour they are excellent surgeons who care about their wounded patients. But I feel their arrogance overshadows this and so I didn’t warm to the characters and for that reason I give the movie 2 out 5 stars

Angelina Jolie’s Dad Tries To Make It In The Big Apple

I’ve been slacking with my American Film Institute challenge this week – my good friend Cam brought me a copy of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey (1968: AFI 1998#22, 2007#15) for my birthday way back in March, but I haven’t got around to watching it yet. But I did oddly enough catch Michael Douglas promote his new comic film on the ‘One Show’ on BBC1.

I was definitely not interested in hearing what he had to say about his new movie ‘Ant-Man’ (2015, seriously? An Ant like superhero? Is there a Daddy Longlegs Man movie in the works?) starring Paul Rudd, the man who I was convinced got his big break in ‘Clueless’ (1995) from being a top movie executive’s son because I can’t imagine what made a casting director say ‘That plain looking dude with mediocre acting skills is our man! He’ll play the star’s love interest!’ What I really wanted to hear was how his legendary dad Kirk Douglas was keeping. This man is truly one of the last remaining actors of the Golden Age in Hollywood and at 98 he is the oldest active blogger for the Huffington Post. But unfortunately the presenters only briefly mentioned his father and talked about more trivial things like how good his Welsh is – that’s what you get for BBC early evening family viewing.

Jon Voight & Dustin Hoffman living rough in ‘Midnight Cowboy’

Having a super-famous dad like Kirk must have helped Michael Douglas get his foot into acting, but I refuse to believe that he is the sole reason for his son’s success – why weren’t the other brothers Oscar winners like Mr Zeta-Jones? Another star whose Dad probably gave her a helping hand into the world of cinema is Angelina Jolie – although she is arguably more successful than her father Jon Voight, she definitely hasn’t starred in an iconic movie (The closest she has got is ‘Girl Interrupted’ (1999) but that’s a bit of a stretch) like ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969: AFI 1998#36 2007#43) – the only X-rated Best Winner Picture at the Academy Awards.

Like ‘Easy Rider’ (1969: AFI 1998#88 2007#84) the movie explores taboos themes of promiscuity, drugs and life in 1960’s America, but unlike ‘Easy Rider’ the film has a solid plot and superb acting from Voight and Dustin Hoffman. The story revolves around Joe Buck a naïve Texan who goes to New York in hopes of becoming a male prostitute, things don’t go to plan and he becomes so desperate that he ends up staying with Ratzo, (Hoffman), a crippled con man who ripped Voight off money when he first arrived in the city. The two form a close bond and try their luck at becoming hustlers together.

The famous ‘I’m walking here’ quote was apparently improvised by Hoffman

The story has similarities to perhaps my favourite novel ‘Catcher in the Rye’ (1951) – the protagonist in both plots are naïve yet good hearted anti-heroes who struggle with their sexuality and face alienation and loneliness in cities that are too big and intimidating for them. Although it’s unlikely we will ever get to see Holden Caulfield on the big screen (thanks to author J. D. Salinger vetoing a big screen adaptation of the book) Joe Buck is the closest we’ll ever get. For the moving, but utterly devastating ending to the film it alone deserves a 4.5 out of 5.

Harry Nilsson’s iconic ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ was played throughout the movie

Do You Belong Here?

My friend Sunny who told me on the weekend that when he reads my blogs he is hoping to one day find a review on a film he’s actually watched – I guess he is expecting something like ‘Iron Man(2008)’ or ‘Training Day (2001)’ to be featured.

Perhaps in the twentieth anniversary there might be some representation of the modern comic, superhero, fantasy genre which seems to be lacking in the current list. But I can put my money on a film like ‘Superman (1978)’ being added long before ‘The Avengers’ (2012) is.  Not because it is necessarily better or more popular than the blockbuster starring Scarlett Johansson, but it did the genre first and is therefore arguably more culturally significant, which is a major criteria for the movies to be considered for the countdown.  Just as I explained why ‘Jaws’ (1975, AFI 1998: #46, 2007:#56) deserved its spot on the AFI top 100 list – It influenced countless of (mostly terrible) horror movies that followed suit or why ‘On the Waterfront (1954, 1998:#8, 2007:#19)’ is regarded so highly on the list. Not only because is it a terrific movie, but it has the timeless “I could have been somebody” line that everyone seems to know (but sadly more and more non classic movies lovers are forgetting where it originated from).

I’ve probably so far watched around sixty classic movies featured on the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time lists and so I’ve agreed that most films earned a place on the prestigious countdown.  But there are some movies that I just don’t understand how they made the cut.

Fonda and Hopper speak on Jack Nicholson’s role in ‘Easy Rider’

For example I don’t see what the big deal is about ‘East Rider (1969, 1998:#88, 2007:#84)’, a coming of age movie about two bikers who travel through the South. It stars Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda who with the money they made through drug smuggling go on an adventure across America where they meet some characters along the way. One of them is pre-frame and very young Jack Nicholson who even though is my favourite modern movie star and plays the role of a drunken Lawyer very convincingly, doesn’t regain my interest in the movie. Although the feature gives a good insight to life in late sixties America the plot is really thin and at times I had to rewind the film because I was getting distracted. The ending is the biggest shock of the film and comes totally unexpected and is definitely the highlight of the film.

Trailer for ‘Easy Rider’

I guess the movie was very unique and taboo busting at the time because it dealt with the hippie movement, recreational use of drugs and promiscuity – all pretty tame by modern standards and done better by Midnight Cowboy (1969, 1998;#36, 2007: #43). I give the movie 2 out of 5 and that’s mostly for the killer soundtrack!

Jack Nicholson seals the show in ‘Easy Rider’