Classics Corner

Welcome to 'Classics Corner', where I take us back in time and relay my thoughts on a favorite film of mine from the past or a classic that I never saw. From classic films like Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind to some of my favorite films from the past decade, stay tuned for a new discovery with every post as I dive into the past and review some of the classics! Feel free to recommend what classic film I should review next!

Classic Review: Blade Runner (1982)

October 18, 2017

With this month marking the release of the highly-anticipated follow-up Blade Runner 2049, it's the perfect time to revisit Ridley Scott's 1982 science fiction classic, Blade Runner. With its long-awaited sequel pitching audiences once more into the grimy world of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, the 1982 film that started it all was essential in crafting the unique future we find in 2049. Based on the 1968 Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Ridley Scott film has gained acclaim since its release as one of the most iconic sci-fi noir films ever made. How does the cult classic shape up with a new chapter on the way? Let's find out.

In the year 2019, Los Angeles is a technological breeding ground for diversity and advanced bioengineering industry; it's also a grim battleground for war between humans and their synthetic counterparts, known as replicants. Tasked with hunting escaped replicants, once used for off-world slave labor, burnt-out detective Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is suddenly drawn back into action when he accepts one last assignment to hunt down a fugitive group of replicants. Diving into the mysterious world of replicant technology under the powerful Tyrell Corporation, Deckard is quickly entranced by a captivating replicant (Sean Young), all while on the hunt for a murderous gang of criminals on the loose.

While the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner was surely on my radar from the moment I got acquainted with the vast filmography of director Ridley Scott, I wasn't fully exposed to the film until only just this year. Delving into one of Scott's most ambitious features, made only a few years after his bold sci-fi horror effort with the first Alien, I was quickly entranced yet again by another expansive world unfolding within Blade Runner. While originally put off by the soaring music by Greek composer Vangelis, whose sporadic yet elegant score introduced us to the futuristic world of 2019, once inside I couldn't help but stare -- and listen -- in awe at what could be the most fascinating and immersive science fiction worlds ever put to screen.

While the diverse world of futuristic Los Angeles, which finds a catacomb of societies and languages merged into a single entity, seems all too complex to navigate at once, we find our guide in the film's protagonist, Rick Deckard. A grim ex-cop with a hardened shell around any empathy he might harbor, it's Harrison Ford's Deckard that guided us through the echoing avenues of a post-apocalyptic Earth. While never as charismatic as that of Han Solo or Indiana Jones, Deckard remains one of Ford's most intriguing roles. Capturing not only the sparse emotions of a cop burnt out by a corrupt system, but also the withering sympathies of a killer worn down by his conscious, Ford portrayed Deckard as a jaded product of his world, a man who has taken in the bleak future and gained little from it.

Compelling to a degree, Ford's performance was matched phenomenally with that of both Sean Young's android Racheal and Rutger Hauer's murderous fugitive Roy Batty. One an innocent yet cunning woman who falls for Deckard while tackling with her identity, the other a deadly mercenary with a knack for the philosophical, both Young and Hauer brought dramatically versatile performances to the grim future we find them in. With every dreamy gleam of Young's sparse yet captivating eyes, and every dry smirk from Hauer, their unique characters elevated far beyond their android personas to mirror the complex likeness of humankind. Both broken beings of a dystopian world of indifference, the unstable performances of the two merged effortlessly with the rigid yet volatile nature of Ford's Deckard.

Even when its pace seemed to drag on a bit, the camera gleaming over dark cityscapes and down into the burrows of society, Blade Runner is undeniably a beautiful hallmark in the realm of film noir. Exploring the deep-seated emotions of its characters, and the industry-fueled world they occupy, the sci-fi classic worked to interrogate the role of humanity in the future, and delve into what makes the broken facades of its characters so compelling. A portrait of morality, suspense, and spectacle, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner stands the test of time as an icon of its time, and a visually-entrancing journey into the grim future of man.

Classic Review: Alien (1979)

May 18, 2017

With the latest installment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant, in theaters tomorrow across the U.S., I thought it was the perfect time to take a look at one of the most influential science-fiction horror films ever, 1979's Alien. While I may have spent most my childhood avoiding this film and its many sequels, I finally settled in for the chilling deep-space adventure from director Ridley Scott. Offering up a sleek yet genuinely grimy '80s sci-fi feel, with a cluster of sarcastic and conflicted characters, the original film that introduced the horrifying Xenomorph packs a slow-burn nail-bitter into a grim and beautifully-desolate atmosphere of terror.

In the far reaches of deep space, the diverse crew of the starship Nostromo are suddenly awakened from their cryo-sleep halfway into their journey. Burdened by a distress call from a distant planet, the crew soon uncovers a massive alien vessel seemingly left abandoned. After uncovering a nest of mysterious eggs, one of the crew members brings an unknown organism onto the ship. Unleashing a series of deadly occurrences onto the rest of the crew, the Nostromo soon becomes a breeding ground not only for bone-chilling terror, but also the beginnings of a new and horrifying creature.

Spawning a blockbuster sci-fi series like no other, the first installment in what would become a fascinating collection of films from a wide variety of filmmakers, is possibly sci-fi horror at its best. With the realm of science fiction intermingling with the tropes of classic horror, 1979's Alien was able to craft a spine-tingling thriller through simply hinting at the horrors of its futuristic environment. In one of my favorite scenes from the film, the crew of the Nostromo, whom we've only met through their casual dialogue aboard the ship, embark into the far reaches of space to answer the distress call that initially awakens them. With a blaring collection of haunting sounds accompanying the crew as they enter the alien craft, remnants of the mysterious civilization begin to sprout up among them, hinting at the fascinating unknown world they've just entered. One of the most influential elements of the film for me was not simply the iconic characters introduced, but rather the mind-bending world that would be explored in the later films. That, intertwined with director Ridley Scott's unique vision of scale, made for a fantastic introduction to the horrific world of Alien. 

With that, the characters introduced in the film, primary Sigourney Weaver's iconic portrayal of the hard-edged crew member Ellen Ripley, allowed the film to explore a slice of humanity within its desolate futuristic environment. From John Hurt's brilliant portrayal of the innocent host for the mysterious creature to Ian Holm's peculiar science officer, the film's cast excelled at giving the film the proper range of reactions to the horrific occurrences that unfold. While we might not hold onto the sentiments of much of the cast simply because we know they won't last very long, the collective hysteria that eventually haunts the crew of the Nostromo makes for an entertaining range of effective performances. Overall, it's Weaver's fantastic turn as the film's heroine that retains her legacy as one of the most bad-ass females in sci-fi.

Still kicking today, even after a few lackluster sequels and a sudden jump into the past with 2012's Prometheus, the epic sci-fi franchise that began with 1979's Alien continues to surprise fans as it explores more and more of its expansive realm of deep-space horror. With the first Alien introducing us to a new world within the era of filmmaking that still relied on grimy prosthetics and chilling backdrops to spook us, the film remains a landmark in classic horror and revolutionary science fiction.

Classic Review: The Shining (1980)

January 13, 2017

From director Stanley Kubrick, the masterful filmmaker behind such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, comes one of the most ingenious and suspenseful horror films of the 1980s (and perhaps of all time), The Shining. Based on the popular Stephen King novel, one of the author's most sensational works, this horror masterpiece sets its eerie tone right from the start and toys with your every expectation, ultimately crafting a somewhat simple story mediated by an atmosphere of tantalizing danger. Finally voyaging into the mind of both King and Kubrick as I watch this film for the first time, there's no doubt that this is a crown jewel of horror filmmaking.

While Stephen King's best-selling horror novel might not have held my interest for long -- primarily on my part, not the author's -- the 1980 film has been on my must-see list for far too long now. Finally catching the film on Netflix one evening, I was treated to one of Kubrick's best works. A nail-biting piece of chilling cinema that teases the premise of the novel -- but ultimately becomes its own separate beast -- The Shining works on a plethora of levels to craft a genuine psychological thriller. Tossing in an ounce of the supernatural, the film manifests into a whirlwind of ambiguity, the reasonable and the reliable giving way to the cruel and insane.

Pitting its central family, headed by struggling writer Jack Torrance, against a "haunted house" of-sorts as they occupy the ominous Overlook Hotel, the film doesn't waste any time with letting you in on what strange occurrences are about to unfold. One of the most defining elements of the film is probably its ability to capture your attention with a simple shift in the movement of the camera. With lively directing from Kubrick, the camera weaves you through not only the mysterious halls of the central hotel, but also through the psyche of its characters. Paving the road towards ultimate madness, the direction of the film lets you in on the secrets unfolding behind the family's eyes, and pulls you in tighter to see it all come crashing in.

While much of its cast delivers mediocre performances for the horror genre, it's clear that the film would not be as entertaining -- and frightening -- as it is without Jack Nicholson leading the show. While the film may not paint Nicholson's troubled writer as much more than...well, troubled, in contrast to the book, the actor's conniving and villainous charm that ultimately comes off tentatively sincere delivers one of the best performances I've ever seen in a horror film. While I might not be the biggest horror fan there ever was, there's no doubt that the film's ominous tone is aided profoundly by Nicholson's brilliant descent into the wicked.

Watching the film for the first time, it's hard not to consider this one of the most effective horror films of recent memory. With its inventive filmmaking bringing the character's perceptions to the fore-front of the experience, and the film's blasphemous slew of classical music begging you to stay tuned in, The Shining manages to elevate not only the words of Stephen King right off the page, but also the effectiveness dynamic filmmaking can have on crafting a film from a generic horror film to a cinematic masterpiece of terror.

With superb visual filmmaking, a eerie tone and musical score that elegantly create the film's enthralling atmosphere of evil, and a leading performance that spins the tale into pure mayhem, The Shining will surely stand high on my list of favorite horror/thrillers. With that, I gave the film an 8 out of 10, because even if its plot may not scream genius, the man behind the camera surely does.

Classic Review: Dirty Harry (1971)

September 22, 2016

As famed actor Clint Eastwood takes the director's chair once more this year with this month's biographical drama Sully, I decided it was only necessary to go back and review one of the actor's most famous starring roles, as renegade San Francisco cop "Dirty" Harry Callahan. Debuting in the first of a handful of violent and no-holds-barred crime thrillers under the name Dirty Harry, Eastwood's stern and unrelenting enforcer paved the way towards many of the crime films we see today (most not nearly as enthralling as this). Diving into the crime classic, here are my thoughts on one of the best films out of the early '70s.

San Francisco, 1970 something. Cop "Dirty" Harry Callahan (Eastwood) does his job the most efficient way he can, no matter how bloody it gets. Tasked with hunting down a psychopathic serial sniper whose targets vary from innocent young women to homosexual black men, Callahan has little to go off of other than his own brutal instincts, which tell him the only way to catch this killer is in cold blood. Partnered with a new rookie cop and equipped with his trusty .44 Magnum, Callahan must do whatever he can to not only stay one step ahead of a psychopathic murderer, but also one step ahead of the law and order holding him back.

Turning back the clock to the early 1970s, a time of crooked cops, drug-fueled hippies, and radical hairstyles, Dirty Harry presented a fantastic image of the darker side of the decade -- not only in its aesthetics but also in its gritty noir filmmaking. Tasked with tracking down a shadowy killer who knows no limits in his killing, Callahan and his rookie partner must dive into the darkest recesses of the city of San Francisco. Aided by a brilliant and suspenseful score as they track down this murderer, the direction, soundtrack, and overall look of this film were a few of its many notable highlights. With unexpected consequences and an unruly realm of sex and violence hidden among the dark streets, the film displayed a reality many people of that generation knew all too well. Tossing in an agent of both chaos and cruel order like Dirty Harry, this grimy realm is subdued only slightly by a man who's known said filth all his career. While I may have exaggerated that a bit much, the film did a fantastic job of pitting the audience into the wicked world of crime Harry Callahan occupies.

Speaking of the man himself, one of Clint Eastwood's most iconic performances was clearly evident in "Dirty" Harry Callahan. Bringing his own cynical charm and witty badassery to the crooked cop, Eastwood delivered a calculated and charismatic performance, cementing nearly every word that comes out his mouth into our thrill-seeking brains. Taking the law into his own hands, whether it be ceasing a bank robbery with only a handful of bullets or brutally interrogating a mass murderer, Eastwood's iconic detective stole the show with his chilling and fearless dive into the unflinching world of '70s California crime.

While its plot may seem pretty rudimentary today -- even as most modern crime thrillers follow a similar formula -- the overall direction, score, and cast of Dirty Harry definitely make it one of the most iconic crime thrillers of the 1970s. While I may not know much of the era other than what I've read, seen, or heard by others, Dirty Harry still stands as a defining piece of both modern noir cinema and '70s atmospherics, with a gracious hint of satire from his leading badass. While Mr. Eastwood may not grace the silver screen today as much as he once did, his efforts behind the camera continue to surprise me.

I gave Dirty Harry an 8 out of 10 for its phenomenal noir writing and direction, its bone-chilling score, and its iconic anti-hero played by an actor I've sorely overlooked for too long. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll take a peek at Harry Callahan's next violent case...

Classic Review: The Exorcist

August 16th, 2016

As FOX aims to retool one of the most terrifying horror films of all time with its upcoming series, The Exorcist, I thought it was only fair to go back and check out the famous film that spurred yet another reboot to hit the small screen. Adapted from the 1971 novel by author William Peter Blatty, this horror classic from director William Friedkin has captivated fans of the genre for decades, its timely yet highly unsettling tale calling upon the bravest souls to get lost in its whirling vortex of crude demons and frightful rituals. Purely one of the best in cinematic horror films, The Exorcist even had a minor fan of the spooky genre like me crawling under the bed sheets with a flashlight gripped cold in my hands. 

When the daughter (Linda Blair) of a famous actress, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), suddenly begins to act strangely after playing with a Ouija board, MacNeil soon realizes that the issue plaguing her daughter might be more than something physical or psychological. After many failed attempts with psychiatrists and neurosurgeons, MacNeil's last resort is Catholic priest Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a deeply troubled man who has lost his faith in God. With the help of Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), a mysterious priest-turned-archeologist who has his own experience with demons, Karras must use ever ounce of strength in his body to regain his faith in religion and fight to save MacNeil's possessed daughter.

Dubbed one of the most terrifying films of all time, I knew it was only a matter of time before I popped in 1973's The Exorcist and settled in for the fright of my life. Traditionally not a horror fan in the slightest, the closest I've gotten being some good suspense films or thrillers, I figured The Exorcist might not be so bad. Not so much a fan of paranormal elements or demons however, I began to wonder if I would even enjoy it, or simply sit there for its two-hour runtime rolling my eyes and yawning every few seconds. Although I did still yawn, it being around midnight when I started watching, as for my eyes, they remained stationary and stuck to the screen -- for the most part. Starting off the film almost like an Indiana Jones or even Jurassic Park movie, we find an elderly archeologist mucking around in a desert dig-site. Eventually stumbling onto a mysterious artifact that links to a horrifying experience the aging archeologist never fails to forget, The Exorcist kicked off with a slow-moving, yet highly cryptic, bang. Intriguing me already by its first scene, I was curious enough to continue on.

Quickly entranced by the steady build-up of what culminated to an innocent girl being possessed by a vile and ancient demon, it was hard to stray from what was ultimately a cinematic and expertly-crafted paranormal thriller. With a viable cast at its disposal, from the frantic Ellen Burstyn to the scarred patron Jason Miller, while the film did take a bit of time to get to its memorable cinematic moments, the story that unfolds in one highly ordinary, but at the same time highly enjoyable, tale of terror. Seeing the progression of young Regan (Linda Blair) as she unwillingly becomes a pawn in a vulgar and violent demon's game, I can see now why people find this so terrifying.

Besides a few grisly scenes of quite effective 1970's special effects, displaying a dynamic range of horrific imagery not for the light-hearted, overall, my first dive into The Exorcist was both highly surprising and graciously memorable. Not too unlike some of the jump-scare-filled horror flicks we get today, but enough unlike to retain a great amount of 70's nostalgia and effective slow-burn suspense for its time, The Exorcist constructed a daring story built on the ideal that digging up that past might not always be the smartest move -- especially when it concerns demons.

I gave The Exorcist a 7 out of 10, because even if the film's performances might lack some gravitas, its bone-chilling tale of possession and the loss of free will trumps all as the film remains a riveting horror classic. Let's just hope FOX knows what they're getting into...

Classic Review: Apocalypse Now

June 7th, 2016

After a somewhat brief hiatus from Classics Corner, I have gracefully returned from the shadows to bring you something you've been dying to see: an actual 'classic' review! Yes, while my past few posts have been films from the last decade that I've just felt the urge to finally review, this one is surely something of the past that's been caught in my mind every since I learned what it was. Taking an elegant yet immensely more violent approach to Joseph Conrad's thorough novella Heart of Darkness, and ultimately reinventing the tale to fit into the era of the Vietnam War, Francis Ford Coppola's captivating journey into the mind of a mad man and the incriminating depths of the Cambodian jungle ultimately delivers something of a masterpiece.

Frightening, brilliant, mesmerizing, violent, beautiful. There are nearly a thousand words that can be used to describe what exactly 1979's Apocalypse Now truly is. Finally setting my sights on this daring war flick after years of the film evading my eye, I was both pleasantly and viciously encountered by a film like none other seen today. Delivering a brutal and thought-provoking peek inside what horrors and beauties lie within Vietnam during the 1970 -- when the world was struck with the fiery hell of war and corruption -- the eerie yet undeniably awe-inspiring Apocalypse Now is much more than your run-of-the-mill war film, but instead a picturesque painting of how the war broke the world's morale.

Ultimately evolving beyond its mesmerizing cinematography and violent scenes of war and turmoil to become an investing study of its characters, one of the most whimsical -- and a tad bit flawed -- elements of the film had to be its cast. Chock full of colorful characters like Martin Sheen's hallucinogenic Captain Willard and Robert Duvall's surfing enthusiast Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, the film employs a morally-ambiguous chessboard of soldiers and sociopaths to keep the tension hot and the audience immensely entertained. Focusing in on Sheen's stubborn yet stern soldier sent to assassinate the demi-god figure of authority Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) -- who has supposedly gone mad with power -- the film offers up a promising performance from not only Sheen but Brando as well, even if Brando's character resides mostly in the shadows. Displaying not only Willard's inner turmoil in the heated atmosphere of war-torn Vietnam, but also his radical obsession with the mysterious Kurtz, the film's characters are as central to the film's message as its glorious visuals.

Still, even as Captain Willard's journey takes him deeper and deeper into the physical and metaphorical darkness of Kurtz and the violence he has unleashed, there are times when the film feels a bit too prophetic for its own good. Sometimes losing me in its lengthy monologues of T.S. Eliot poetry and slow-moving pace, some of the film's greater themes felt a bit lost within its grand allure. While this aspect of this film certainly didn't leave me hating the film in its conclusion, I was left a little confused at times when the film slowed down to deliver one of its profound monologues meant to leave an impact on me.

Overall, the mesmerizing Apocalypse Now was nothing short of what I expected it to be. A visually-pleasing masterpiece from a legendary director, the film delivered a bold and frightening moving picture of the Vietnam War and the men, women, and children broken by its effects. Significant in its message and dynamic in its clear-cut storytelling, I gave Apocalypse Now a 9 out of 10 for its intense scenes of war, its brilliant parallel between the war and Joseph Conrad's tale, and its lasting impact on Hollywood and filmmaking in general.             

Classic Review: Pleasantville

May 9th, 2016

From the writer of 1988's Big and the director of the Oscar-nominated 2003 film Seabiscuit, the psychedelic and satirical Pleasantville has been on my watchlist for a while now. Finally diving into the odd manifestation of classic 1950s television and modern times (well, at least for 1998), I was pleasantly met with a superb culmination of humorous and self-aware satire and enigmatic characters. With a fantastic cast including Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, and Joan Allen, and a brilliant concept that takes aim at both social injustices and suburban repression, Gary Ross' Pleasantville was an enjoyable peek inside what happens when the world blurs between what's black and what's white.

When two bickering siblings (Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon) are suddenly transported into their television set after encountering a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts), the polar-opposite brother and sister enter the realm of the popular 1950s television program Pleasantville. Suddenly jolted into a world of conformity and bleakness, dry of all color and emotion compared to the vibrant atmosphere of 1998, siblings David and Jennifer must soon evade social chaos as the clean-cut realm they enter is quickly influenced by their strange modern customs.

With an ambitious tale of social commentary and repression of individuality, Pleasantville was ultimately one of the most refreshing films about utopias and dystopias and their radical contrasts that I've seen in a while. Entertaining throughout -- even as the plot dives deeper and deeper into its broad themes of repression and discrimination -- this curious film delivered a power-pack of worthy performances and whimsical visual effects. While the film often strayed into cautious territory, referencing racial themes and evoking some strong imagery, it never tried to be too preachy or overwhelming with its subliminal messages. Its goal ultimately being to deliver a passionate display of how a society can evolve once indifference is challenged by individualism, Pleasantville was generally effective in both its message and its vivid visuals that helped convey said message.

In the end, I gave Pleasantville an 8 out of 10, for its phenomenal blend of black-and-white and color cinematography, its unique plot of social repression and how modern times can change the past, and its hilarious cast. While it may dive a bit too much into some heavy-hitting political and social themes, they only work to add another dynamic layer underneath the film's glossy and subversive satire.

Classic Review: Natural Born Killers

May 5th, 2016

A film that has been on my radar for a while now, the Oliver Stone-directed gore-fest of killers and media influence that is 1994's Natural Born Killers finally caught my attention as I embarked on a search for some of Robert Downey Jr.'s -- costar in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War (out Friday) -- most memorable roles. Discovering not only one of the actor's most brilliant and psychotic roles ever, but also a riveting tale of a murderous couple out to gain global fame for their violent crimes, this unhinged and unorthodox film managed to both scare the crap out of me and also leave me laughing my ass off at the shear chaos that was revealed in the film's writing and direction. Cringe-worthy yet captivating, Natural Born Killers wasn't anything like I expected it to be -- and that may be a good thing.

Chocked full of superb and grotesque tropes reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino -- who served as one of the film's writers -- as well as a rickety yet fast-paced direction by Oliver Stone, this dynamic display of murders in the media and the madness that can unfold due to its influence ended up being one of the most unorthodox yet highly enjoyable films I've ever seen. Going into the film with a very limited knowledge of Stone's previous projects, I went in expecting a respectable clear-cut tale of serial killers and their depiction in the media, with smart writing and interesting characters. What I got, however, was a mess of a film packaged with pure brilliance. Whether that makes sense or not, the film surprised me beyond belief, delivering a disjointed project with just enough grandeur to leave a lasting mark. Still retaining its smart writing (to some degree at least) and fascinating characters, the plot ended up being a blurry line of bloody violence and intense imagery -- which almost made me feel like Tarantino actually directed it.

Even with a somewhat muddled plot, the most dynamic and hilarious aspects of the film had to be its cast. High-strung and venomous in both their appearances and actions, nearly every character left a very different impression on me, each having their own offset performances to display. From Woody Harrelson's perplexing mass-murderer to Robert Downey Jr.'s uncensored media scumbag, the cast of the film each made their characters their own person, unearthing a specialized madness to show off to the unsuspecting audience. Along with the memorable performances of the leading couple Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, one of the most enjoyable -- and frightening -- performances had to be from Downey Jr. Playing a media mogul out to popularize the murders of the serial killer couple, Downey Jr.'s exotic and over-the-top performance may have taken a backseat to the leading duo, but it nevertheless delivered one of the most passionate roles I've seen from the actor in the last decade.

Overall, this cinematic whirlwind of ill-advised behavior and corrupted societies managed to deliver an fantastic -- and border-line artful -- piece of cinema that will be hard to forget. Possibly one of Oliver Stone's best (unless September's Snowden has anything to say about it), Natural Born Killers was an erotic, exotic, and highly-neurotic picture that will ultimately be quite iconic -- at least through the eyes of any madman who can relate to it. I gave this film a 6 out of 10, for its crafty use of cinematography, its brilliant cast of psychopaths, and its disjointed yet thoroughly whimsical plot of murder, madness, and media.        

Classic Review: Purple Rain

May 1st, 2016

Little over a week has passed since the tragic death of musical innovator Prince Nelson, and with this great loss, the world of music and entertainment has changed dramatically as one of the most visceral artists of our time leaves us. In honor of the legend that was Prince, it would be a crime for me not to go back and watch one of the artist's most ambitious ventures, in his 1984 feature film, Purple Rain. A vivid exploration of young love, toiled marriage, and extravagant music, the 1984 classic dives into a quasi-biographical tale of the Kid (Prince) and his band, the Revolution, as they combat another musician out to steal their spotlight. With a plethora of other subplots of the Kid's sudden attraction to a new singer (Apollonia Kotero) and his escape from his quarrelsome home life tossed in as well, Purple Rain may not be the most well-oiled machine in plot and characters, but it never falters when it comes to delivering classic 80's tunes.

While the acting may not be up to par with anything we see today, one of the most memorable characters in the film had to be Prince's the Kid. While the character may be slim on character development, there was a clear motivation present in the musician to leave his mark on the flamboyant character. A troubled soul who has become a victim to the limelight, throwing out his compassion for anger and disrespect, it would appear that the Kid works to embody a hidden tangent of Prince's own personality, possibly highlighting the deeper struggles of the musician's career. With that deeper layer added to the character, even without stellar acting ability, Prince's the Kid becomes something of an expression of the conflicted mentality we all have within ourselves. Truly shining on the stage where he belongs -- with his minor acting range still leaving me captivated -- Prince's dark yet colorful embodiment of this enigmatic persona definitely did not go without recognition.

While the rest of the cast was just as colorful -- and limited in their acting skills -- as Prince, none of that really mattered when you took into account the true star of the film -- the music. Creating a twisted and rockin' blend of Prince and the Revolution's psychedelic tunes and Morris Day and The Time's funky sound, the soundtrack of the film was definitely at the fore-front of this feature. While the film may have partially worked as a publicity stunt to get Prince's name out there in the '80's, the film does an effective job at mixing the chaotic mess of music concerts with a decent subplot of young lovers trying to find success and passion in 1980s Minneapolis. With Prince's vivacious stage presence taking the lead, the film never failed to deliver the ideal '80's atmosphere.

Overall, this captivating exploration of fast love in fast times, and rockin' music set against broad dark themes was an effective film debut for the vibrant performer that was Prince. While it may be quite slim on both acting ability and fluid plot, this euphoric and almost-surreal journey into the mind of Prince and his music succeeds at leaving a lasting memory of one of the most enchanting performers of our time. I gave this film a 7 out of 10 for its phenomenal, foot-tapping tunes, and its vivid exploration into a darker side of the musician. Whether you're a fan of Prince's music or not, I think one of the best ideals to come from the artist was when he said this:

"Music is music, ultimately. If it makes you feel good, cool."

Classic Review: Frost/Nixon

April 24th, 2016

With another politically-focused drama (and comedy), Elvis & Nixon, releasing this month, this week I took aim at one of the most critically-acclaimed portrayals of the 37th President of the United States in 2008's Frost/Nixon. Before House of Cards powerhouse Kevin Spacey left his mark on the famous President, it was Frank Langella who truly embodies Richard Nixon in this gripping narrative. Chronicling the aftermath of Nixon's 1974 resignation from the presidency, following a massive political scandal, Frost/Nixon took a look at one of the biggest televised interviews of the century, as the cocky television personality of David Frost (Michael Sheen) took on a weary but nevertheless confident Nixon. Entering a boxing ring of hard truth and political tension, Frost must use every ounce of his determination -- and cash -- to reveal the hidden morality of the elusive commander-in-chief.

Fueled by a tightly-wound plot and a plethora of phenomenal performances -- especially by leading men Sheen and Langella -- the battle of wits that is Frost/Nixon was possibly one of the most intriguing political biopics I've ever seen. Telling a story I knew little to nothing about, about a scandal I had only heard whispers about in my limited political knowledge, this fascinating drama chronicling the hysteria of the post-Nixon administration and the battle for truth -- and fame -- by David Frost brought a tense and thoroughly interesting story to the big screen. While its real-life characters do fuel most of the tension, the film's political narrative was the true master at work. While some of the tale may be toyed with a bit by the writers here and there, Frost/Nixon managed to deliver an enjoyable political drama that kept me on the edge of my seat.
As for the cast of the film, it was the two leading men of Michael Sheen and Frank Langella that stole the show. With Sheen delivering an enjoyable performance as the pompous TV host David Frost -- a man seduced by the chance to interview one of the most powerful men in the world -- and Langella stepping into President Nixon's shoes without failure, the two men were able to both entrance me and convince me that they were who they were trying to be. Always enjoying a good biographical film when it's done right, I had little to complain about Sheen and Lagella's powerhouse duo. Playing off one another like the brilliant men they were portraying, the two delivered a superb parallel of morality and mentality as they shot hard-edged questions off each other.

Overall, this engrossing tale of conspiracy and conflict set around one of the biggest political scandals in American history was effective in both its execution and legacy, as it gave off a fantastic story and immensely enjoyable performances. With excellent direction from Ron Howard and a sharp screenplay by Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon used nearly every inch of its slim yet impacting source material to deliver a memorable historical drama. With that, I gave this film an 8 out of 10 for its superb acting, investing plot, and memorable score by Hans Zimmer. Set to give us a more comical portrayal of the 37th President, Elvis & Nixon will hopefully give Kevin Spacey a second run at delivering a memorable Nixon, after he lost to Langella for this film.

Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey as Elvis Presley and
President Nixon in Elvis & Nixon

Classic Review: Jungle Book (1942)

April 15th, 2016

With the newest film adaptation of the famous stories by author Rudyard Kipling, collectively known as The Jungle Book, releasing today, I decided to transport back to World War II-era Hollywood to take in one of the very first adaptations of this immense tale of wild beasts and jungle boys. Diving into the story of Mowgli (Sabu Dastagir), a child who had his family taken from him at a young age by the devilish tiger Shere Khan, only to become a creature of the jungle, 1942's Jungle Book provided a much darker turn on the famous stories, rather than the cheery atmosphere of the later 1967 Walt Disney animated film. While this version may not be as memorable as the catchy Disney cartoon, this war-time production ended up being a lot more investing and thrilling -- light-hearted when it begins, but undeniably metaphorical in its end.

With brilliant artwork and intense set pieces surrounding its mostly-compelling cast of colorful animals and shady humans, Jungle Book brought you into one of the best Hollywood jungles I've ever seen. Even if it was all set in a studio (as most films back then were), the majestic atmosphere of the elusive jungle the film created -- as well as its very real array of diverse wildlife -- was at the forefront of this classic. A little short of a masterpiece, the artful direction of the Korda brothers, as well as the film's intense cinematography, made the film feel even more like a journey into the depths of the jungle.

Acting as a journey into the psychology and morality of its characters as well, the effective subplot of greed and imperialism offered up in the film was also one of the many highlights I enjoyed. Efficiently spinning the origin of the jungle boy Mowgli and his quest to take down the tiger Shere Khan, all while telling of a corrupt father (Joseph Calleia) out to build a city of riches over the lively jungle, the film tackles a number of intriguing storylines, all culminating into one great tale of revenge and betrayal by the conclusion. Evoking the dark elements of Kipling's stories, all while keeping the occasional comical bits here and there, Jungle Book ultimately delivered a superb plot full of thrill and wonderment.

In the end, while some of the characters in the film may have been lacking in their development or acting ability, 1942's retelling of the classic Jungle Book was ultimately built on its sheer spectacle and elaborate themes of greed and innocence. More profound in its storytelling than the 1967 classic -- which I still love -- and memorable for its artful cinematography, I gave Jungle Book an 8 out of 10. Moving now into the digital age with the next adaptation out this weekend, let's hope Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book can bring an equally-dynamic tale to the screen.                    

Classic Review: Kill Bill - Vol. 1

April 6th, 2016

In honor of the ultra-violent first-person shooter flick Hardcore Henry, out Friday, I went back and gave one of the most violent -- and expertly stylized -- films of the early 2000s a shot. Gory and wickedly fantastic as all films by director Quentin Tarantino usually are, the first volume in the Kill Bill series managed to not only deliver a twisted tale of vengeance, but also turn popular "grindhouse" genres on their ears. With visceral action sequences, a stylized direction, and a plethora of morally-ambiguous characters set against a powerful lead like Uma Thurman, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 will forever stand out as one of Tarantino's best.

Awoken after four years in a coma, the Bride (Thurman) is left broken and drained of all sympathy. Her unborn child stolen from her, and her ex leaving her with a bullet in her skull, the Bride soon embarks on a deadly mission to bring bloody hell upon her oppressors. Checking off each member of the team she once pledged allegiance to -- known as the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad -- the Bride ventures across the world to enact her revenge on those who left her for dead. Resulting in a chaotic frenzy of violent hand-to-hand combat, as the Bride encounters her first enemy, former Deadly Viper O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) -- as well as her vicious yakuza army.

Being the uninitiated fan of Quentin Tarantino that I am -- having only seen a handful of his films, including Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained -- my final exposure to one of the director's first projects was simply breathtaking. Delivering to my eyes (and ears) a flood of stunning filmmaking -- from its beautifully-shot scenes to its unique soundtrack -- this no-holds-barred martial arts flick offered up something I've rarely seen on the big screen today. Even in its simplicity -- detailing the bloody revenge of a woman to her ex -- the film managed to have a plethora of brilliant layers to it, which made it a thousand times more memorable than any random action flick you'd see today. While it may feel like a generic action flick at times -- including the director's signature passion to paint the screen red with blood -- the film's many homages to classic cinema make it something special.

With a silent but deadly lead in Uma Thurman -- in possibly one of her best roles -- and a superb blend of classic cinema tropes and fresh and witty dialogue, the first volume of the Kill Bill series kicked ass and didn't care if it was a tad bit cheesy here and there. If you're a fan of Tarantino and you haven't witnessed this classic yet, there's something wrong with you. In the end, I gave Kill Bill: Vol. 1 an 8 out of 10, as its unique vision -- even with its exaggerated use of violence and gore -- entranced me just as every Tarantino film has so far.


Popular Posts