#79: Big

big3

How’s about a kiss?

Director: Penny Marshall
Year: 1988
Genre: Comedy

Remember Tom Hanks in the 80’s? The reason Hollywood fell in love with him and made him a 2 time Academy Award winning schmuck is because of his endearing nature and his wild approach to comedy. Big sees the perfect mix of Hanks’ loveable sensibilities and zany antics  placing him in the role of a 12 year old boy stuck in a grown man’s body. Along with The Burbs, Big has the privilege of showcasing Mr. Hanks at his best.

Big is not just an excuse to get a kick out of Hanks’ wonderful and iconic performance, the film is a phenomenal comedy/fairy tale in its own right. Don’t expect some silly high-concept comedy like Rob Schneider’s The Animal or The Hot Chick. Big is a substantial story about an inadequate 12 year old boy, Josh Baskin, who wishes he was “bigger” so that the boys wouldn’t pick on him and the girls would dig him. He gets a shock when he wakes up the next morning to find that he has the fully grown man’s body of Tom Hanks! Well, the adult version of himself as played by Tom Hanks, there’s no meta Being John Malkovich shit where the kid suddenly becomes a movie star. Though, that could be a pretty cool film in itself!

Big is a coming of age comedy to the extreme. Imagine learning to be an adult when you’re 12 years old just ‘cos you woke up with an adult body. Imagine the pressure! You’d have to pretend to know everything just so people didn’t think you were mental. In fact, it’s a pretty neat way of teaching you all the basics such as driving, paying bills, getting a job, investing, sexing, and more stuff I can’t even name because I’M still not man enough yet to fathom. Every high school should put all of its students through the Big test before sending them out into the world. If we kept churning out armies of “Bigs” the world would really be a better place.

In Big you will laugh HEAPS and, if you’re a pussy like me, you’ll cry just as much. If Grown Ups 2 is your next movie outing, then I strongly suggest you give the cinemas a miss this week and go and rent Big on DVD or Blu-ray.

May Tom Hanks teach us all to be the best adults we can be!

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#94: The Untouchables

Do not fuck with us.

“Do not fuck with us.”

Director: Brian De Palma
Year: 1987
Genre: Drama

Based on the real life hunt for Al Capone in the prohibition era of the early 1930’s, The Untouchables is a hard-hitting crime drama disguised as an old-school crime caper. From the opening credits, with its camp-TV serial style titles and Ennio Morricone’s stunning, upbeat score, you’ll know you’re in for a fresh and exhilarating 2 hours.

At a first glance, De Palma’s film comes across as a family friendly cops and robbers caper. Early on in the film we are presented with a sickeningly innocent scene of a little girl’s mundane exchange with the man behind the counter at a cafe. When the girl notices a stranger leave his briefcase behind and exclaims, “Mr, you forgot your briefcase!”, we realise that there’s something deviously different about this film. Oh, that’s right. It’s De Palma! A director who is known for bathing his audience in onscreen violence. The next time we are presented with an oddly innocent scene is when our protagonist, Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is at home with his wife, Catherine (Patricia Clarkson), and the interaction between them is laughably sweet and conservative. Now, it’s apparent that De Palma is taking the “innocent” image of 1930’s cinema and spitting in its face by contrasting Eliot’s squarish personality with Capone’s barbaric nature and loading the film with tragic violence.

De Palma’s “clean on the outside, dirty on the inside” style is what makes The Untouchables stand out from other gang films and the main reason why it’s so damn slick and entertaining. The film’s old-fashioned soppiness keeps your emotional side nice and tender so that when the unmerciful violence intrudes your blood-thirsty side and your ‘Bo-Peep’ side are at war with each other. A more gritty and naturalistic film would have your heart hardened leaving you somewhat cold towards any emotional tipping points.

Kevin Costner is perfectly cast as Chicago’s clean-cut, by-the-book prohibition agent, Eliot Ness, and big, bad Robbie De Niro was born to play the infamous gang-lord, Al Capone. The real star of the film though is Sean Connery in his Academy Award winning role as Jimmy Malone, an Irish-American police officer on the brink of retirement. Connery, you scene stealer. Wait, there’s more! The Untouchables is one hell of a rich film. It’s filled with costumes designed by Georgio Armani, luscious 30’s era production design, a tight screenplay by David Mamet, an amazing score by Ennio Morricone and loads of iconic sequences.

What else do you want? Go stop some bootleggers!

#83: Stand By Me

standbyme2

It shrinks?

Director: Rob Reiner
Year: 1986
Genre: Drama

There was no shortage of coming of age dramas and childhood adventure stories in the 80’s and Stand By Me is the best of both worlds.

Based on a Stephen King novella, The BodyStand By Me revolves around four young boys who get a lead on the whereabouts of a missing body and embark on an expedition to retrieve it and claim the reward. The four lead actors of this heart-leaping coming of age adventure have got to be the most memorable preadolescent ensemble cast to date. Each one of these lads portray rather polarising characters yet all four of them are deeply identifiable. It probably helps that I’m a male myself but I daresay these characters are relatable despite their gender.

We view the narrative through the eyes of Gordie (Will Wheaton), the puny and insecure story-teller. Gordie’s best friend Chris (River Phoenix) is the alpha-male of the group who comes from a family of criminals and carries the burden of their bad reputation. Phoenix is electrifying in one of his first roles; it’s his and Wheaton’s naturalistic performances that keep the film’s heart beating.
Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell are the character actors who add colour to the group, they’re the cherries on top, the pepper in the sauce depending on what course you’re up to.
Feldman plays the eccentric and possibly the most disturbed individual of the bunch being the son of a troubled war veteran. The ‘Ringo’ of the group is Vern, the tubby one who everyone laughs at. Vern was Jerry O’Connell’s very first film role, and probably his best, and he presents an absolutely adorable, hilarious and sympathetic character. It’s funny that O’Connell is now known for playing more boyish/jockey roles, a stark contrast from his debut effort. Did his experience playing Vern perhaps scare him into becoming the type of person that he would usually be bullied by?

Everyone’s so quick to grow up they forget about the magic of being a kid, especially since we haven’t seen a great all child cast since this film…
Super 8 (2011) is the only film I can think of with such a cast and that movie is a love-letter to E.T. (1982) and Stand By Me. Childhood is one of the more fascinating walks of life to explore on film and since the early 90’s most films with a child cast have been mindless entertainment featuring annoying little shits who are often more one dimensional than Jason Statham.

Stand By Me shows us how children seem to be able to make fantastic situations out of reality. Well, why can’t grown ups do the same without being ridiculed? Watch Stand By Me to fuel your dreams.

#81: Heathers

"Got a light?"

“Got a light?”

Director: Michael Lehmann
Year: 1988
Genre: (Black) Comedy

The Heathers are the most popular and feared group of girls at Westerburg High School, Ohio. Three out of four of these girls share the same first name, Heather. The fourth girl is Veronica Sawyers (Winona Ryder) and as she tires of her clique’s snobbish ways, in walks lone bad boy, Jason Dean/J.D. (Christian Slater). J.D.’s rebellious attitude is the perfect escape for Veronica and through him she finds inspiration to humiliate the head Heather, Heather Chandler. When J.D.’s pranks turn out to be far more menacing than expected, Veronica must decide how far she’s willing to go to change the culture of her high school.

Heathers takes a spiked dildo to the John Hughs teen films that dominated the 80’s and is the precursor to films like Mean Girls (2004) and Jawbreaker (1999). Don’t get me wrong, I love me some John Hughs, The Breakfast Club (1985) is one of my favourite teen comedies, but Heathers is better. Whilst this film is a comedy, it ain’t no Rom Com. If you’re looking for a fun teen flick about unrequited love and nerds becoming cool go see Pretty in Pink (1986). Heathers is a teen film about high school reputations and suicide and it explores its dark content the best way possible, with a sense of humour. Suicide is a dicey and heavy subject for any film to deal with but screenwriter, Daniel Waters’ light approach keeps this film from being preachy or heavy handed.

Heathers is like a rotten apple, a prime example of things that were once juicy and are now shit. In a lot of ways the story is about the deterioration of society and in that sense you are watching people decay. The decay also presents itself in our reality in terms of how we view the film’s stars and themes today. If you didn’t know, Christian Slater was once one of the coolest motherfuckers around and this film sees him in perhaps his most iconic role. Winona may not be the sad case that Slater became but her career isn’t what it used to be either and Heathers shows the dark princess of the 80’s in her prime. Believe it or not “teen angst” was also cool once. It spawned in the 80’s as a form of teenage rebellion against the return to conservatism after the death of the hippie movement. Heathers is the quintessential angst film and it’s fuckin’ bad ass! It is unfortunate that angst gave birth to “emo” but the 80’s did mean well. Watch Heathers to remember what was good about the 80’s and to discover a unique and daring high school film which has yet to be matched.

#86: Batman

“Make me laugh, bitch.”

Director: Tim Burton
Year: 1989
Genre: Fantasy/Action

In his many incarnations, Batman has always been the most talked about on-screen superhero; from the camp sensation of the 60’s TV series, to Warner Bros. fantastical film franchise (1989-1997) and exquisite animated TV series (1992-1995), to Christopher Nolan’s current film trilogy (2005-2012). Nolan’s vision seems to have overshadowed previous screen adaptations with its gritty realism, state-of-the-art special effects and complex storylines, which makes a lot of sense post 9/11. People no longer have the stomach for ‘romance’, instead they want their entertainment to be harsh and self aware, and the only way they’ll digest anything the least bit ‘romantic’ is through nostalgia. For me, the definitive Batman film is Tim Burton’s 1989 smash hit, Batman. His follow up, Batman Returns (1992) is a close second, boasting one of the best on-screen super-villains ever, Catwoman as played by Michelle Pfeiffer. However, Burton’s first installment to the Warner Bros. film series is the superior film.

I know I can’t convince everyone that Batman is the better film than The Dark Knight (2008), but I’m going to try!

Batman: Firstly, Batman, as played by Michael Keaton in Burton’s film, is THE shit! His outfit alone has no contest. It’s simple, black, iconic, a little bit sexy and it maintains its aesthetic qualities in most shades of light.

Ooh yeah!

Christian Bale’s outfit, on the other hand, is too complicated with lots of technological details which tarnish its mystique. It also looks like a kids’ costume in highly lit environments.
See for yourself…

2008: “Is that a G.I. Joe outfit? Or are you just happy to see me?”

Burton’s Batman isn’t all just in the costume. Keaton’s performance is to die for. He’ dark, direct, mysterious and he doesn’t need a weird-ass gravely voice to convey it. I’m sure Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s decision to make Batman sound like a Scooby Doo villain astounds everyone, including The Dark Knight fans. Even if you choose to ignore Bale’s Batman voice…you can’t! Maybe I’m making too much of a big deal of Bale’s croak-fest, it doesn’t ruin the movie, but unfortunately Batman Bale doesn’t have any stand out qualities to cance(r)l out his throat!
Keaton manages to maintain a satisfying level of comic timing and sex appeal which only makes it easier for us (well, for me at least) to take his character seriously. Whereas Bale is so devoid of humour and sex appeal that you keep waiting for something funny or inappropriate to happen, therefore breaking the spell of any fear, intimidation or wonder he may be casting.
Nolan’s films delve deeper into the idea that Batman must strike fear into the hearts of his enemies, but if an intimidating figure approached me and talked like Batman Bale, I might start laughing, but I certainly would not be scared. The idea of ‘becoming fear’ isn’t even discussed in Burton’s films, yet we clearly get the idea from Keaton’s performance alone. There is a scene in Batman where The Caped Crusader takes Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) to the Batcave and even she, as an ally, is a little frightened of him. Batman doesn’t respond to her petty questions and only speaks when he has important information to pass on to her. The scene is reminiscent of Gothic stories such as The Phantom of the Opera and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it’s those sorts of mysterious/grandiose elements that I feel Nolan’s films are lacking. Whilst Nolan’s films are undeniably excellent and bring a level of realism to the superhero film genre that had previously not been achieved, the lack of enchantment and excitement (romance) surrounding Batman’s character is a big loss for me.

Bruce Wayne: Keaton’s Batman may shit on Bale’s, but does Keaton’s Bruce outweigh Bale’s Wayne? It is tempting to fall for Christian Bale. He’s a suave motherfucker! How can you resist the yuppie charms of the man who played Patrick Batman in American Psycho (2000)? Bale also has the advantage of being much more physically buff than Keaton; his body is the well oiled machine it needs to be to fight crime. Keaton’s fuzzy hair, turtle-neck skivvies and lean, Jerry Seinfeld physique make him laughably dated but his performance is his saving grace. Michael Keaton is one of those actors who walks into frame and immediately engages you without even having to say anything. His character is also quite funny and is never too shy to make a few quips here and there, which makes him all the more likeable. Bale may have the looks but he ain’t got the touch. Ultimately I sympathise with Keaton’s character more than Bale’s and it’s all due to a sense of humour. I just can’t take people-who-take-themselves-too-seriously, seriously. That there is my main issue with The Dark Knight in a nutshell, and a sentence.

The Joker: Both Heath Ledger’s Joker (The Dark Knight) and Jack Nicholson’s (Batman) are outstanding and I seriously cannot decide which one I prefer. Obviously Nicholson’s is more camp, but that is certainly not a negative quality. The comic and overly joyous nature of Nicholson’s Joker only make his antics all the more disturbing, like a killer clown at a kids’ party, and such qualities provide the perfect contrast to Batman’s dark and brooding heroics. In Burton’s film, Joker begins as Jack Napier, a gangster who is betrayed by his boss and is deformed after falling into a vat of chemicals – hence his new persona as The Joker. Napier’s back-story automatically turns him into an empathetic character, which makes for a more interesting story. We aren’t as cheated in Burton’s film when equal screen time is devoted to both the Batman and the Joker because we sympathise with both of them. I do like the impenetrable mystery of Ledger’s Joker, but I find it quite problematic that we spend as much screen time, if not more, with him as Batman when we aren’t even supposed to root for him. In Nolan’s film, the Joker’s scenes are far more interesting than Batman’s and Aaron Eckhart’s character, Harvey Dent/Two Face, is much more sympathetic. When the protagonist of a superhero film is the least interesting thing about the movie, something’s wrong!

Gotham City: The city of Gotham is probably the most iconic fictional city in the superhero genre and creating fictitious worlds is what Burton does best. Gotham City, as realised by Production Designer Anton Furst in Burton’s films, is Gothic and hyper-real. The mixture of decadent, old, scary buildings and modern day New York inspired streets and alleyways vividly capture the world of the comics. Landmarks such as Gotham City Hall and the massive Gothic Cathedral are as real to me as the landmarks of our world. Nolan’s films take a much more contemporary approach, which is just as well because no one wants to see the same thing twice! However, as beautifully realised Nolan’s city of Gotham may be, it’s CGI infused, industrial Super City is insignificant next to the power of Burton’s world.

Music: Batman boasts one of the greatest film scores of all time. Even in the reign of Nolan’s trilogy, Danny Elfman’s score for Burton’s films rules triumphant as the definitive Batman theme music. The Dark Knight score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is beautifully effective but much like the film it sings for, it lacks the grandiose majesty that superhero films should have.

If you haven’t seen Batman since childhood, I hope you feel inspired to give it a second chance, and if you’ve not seen it at all, get on that shit! Get RIGHT on it.

#98: Big Trouble in Little China

Somethin’s goin’ down in Chinatown…

Director: John Carpenter
Year: 1986
Genre: Fantasy/Action/Comedy

This movie is pretty fuckin’ silly, and I might be just as silly for listing it as my favourite John Carpenter film, but if you’ve seen Big Trouble in Little China and you don’t like it, then perhaps you’re missing some funny bones.
I’m not talking about a film that’s so bad it’s good, Big Trouble in Little China is by no means ‘bad’, it’s tongue-in-cheek and packed full of self-aware cheesiness. Here’s a film that takes a typical action/fantasy yarn, which there were an abundance of in the 80’s, and puts a spin on its usual tropes by putting the ‘sidekick’ character in the lead; imagine Star Wars with Han Solo as the primary hero but much less capable. Jack Burton, Kurt Russell in top form, one of my all-time movie heroes, is a wise-crackin’ truck-driver who underestimates the world and thinks the world of himself. Jack Burton’s no Jedi, he’s just an everyday man cruisin’ through life on the Pork Chop Express (that’s his truck). Aside from the comical elements, the beauty of putting the incapable sidekick in the lead is that the risk of failure is higher and the character is more relatable.

If your heroes are of the likes of Han Solo, Ash (The Evil Dead trilogy) or Indiana Jones and you’re partial to a bit of martial arts and ancient Chinese magic, then you tell those suckers at the video store that, “the cheque is in the mail.”

To give you an idea of what you’re in for in Big Trouble in Little China, and if you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing John Carpenter sing, check out the hilarious music video written and performed by Carpenter himself… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D03E9kUTTtQ

#89: The King of Comedy

“Join us.”

Director: Martin Scorsese
Year: 1983
Genre: Black Comedy

It’s 1983 and we are joined with one of the best living actors, Robert De Niro, and one of the best living directors, Martin Scorsese, in one of his best films. Ladies and gentlemen, The King of Comedy.

De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, an obsessive comedian wannabe, who kidnaps his idol comedian, Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), in an attempt to get a spot on Langford’s variety/talk show doing standup. I consider The King of Comedy the sister film to Taxi Driver. Both films chronicle the efforts of a disturbed individual, played by De Niro, to get shit done in his own way, and whilst we can see both characters choosing the wrong path, we still root for them all the way. It is also part of what I like to call the “Media Thriller Trilogy”, which consists of Targets (1968), Network (1976) and of course The King of Comedy. These films have nothing to do with each other except that they are all thrillers concerned with the media, whether it be film or TV, they each come from different and consecutive decades, and they’re all bloody brilliant!

The King of Comedy is a particularly unique experience in that it is a colourful, old-fashioned ransom tale with no sex, violence or coarse language, much like a prime time TV show! Yet the dark humour and the disturbing nature of the protagonist do not make for a very family friendly experience, which may be why the film is so underrated and little talked about. For those of you who aren’t kids anymore, you’ve probably seen Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995) and Cape Fear (1991), and you’re dying to get another helping of Scorsese/De Niro action. Well, The King of Comedy sees the duo at the top of their game, so tune in!

#90: The Fly (1986)

“I’m all flemmy.”


Director:
David Cronenberg
Year: 1986
Genre: Sci-Fi

We’ve seen how well transporters work in the year 2258 – beautifully demonstrated in Star Trek when Scotty beams multiple beings into a space ship traveling at warp speed. Now we have the privilege of seeing how transporters worked back in the year I was born, the year 1986. Seth Brundle, played by my favourite Jeff – Jeff Goldblum – invents the world’s first transporter in The Fly; arguably the best remake of all time.

I have not had the privilege of seeing the original 1958 film, but this 1986 remake is unique in that it is directed by one of my favourite Davids; David Cronenberg. Cronenberg’s films stand out because they are genre films, usually sci-fi’s or thrillers, that do not lend themselves to typical blockbuster tropes. Cronenberg often tackles fantastical concepts, i.e. a scientist accidentally fuses his molecular structure with a fly, but explores them within the confines of one character . Rather than being introduced to a new world and seeing how the characters interact with it, a Cronenberg film will challenge us to identify with a character who undergoes a strange transformation and/or evolution, whether it be physical or philosophical. Being a remake and a great box-office success, The Fly is Cronenberg’s most accessible film, making it the perfect selection for those who are interested in pursuing the director’s filmography.

The Fly has had a great influence on me as a sci-fi fan and a writer. The gradual, biological transformation of Seth Brundle fascinates me because it addresses two ideas which I very strongly identify with: fear of disease and playing God. The horror fan in me also gets a tickle; The Fly happens to be an iconic “body horror” film – thanks to the grotesque special effects used to bring Seth’s transformation to life. The 80’s was the pinnacle of hands-on special effects and Body Horror films. These days CGI is used to make things look too perfect. Gore and actors who need to be physically manipulated, for whatever reason, always look best when make up is used because it is really there, which means it looks more realistic. CGI may be able to achieve details that make up can’t, but the jilted movements that occur from the limitations of hands-on effects can be scarier than a seamlessly moving computer generated image. Watch Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell and tell me which sequences gross you out more; the ones that use CGI, or the ones that use hands on effects and make up. Of course you’d choose the latter because green liquid coming out of a dead woman’s mouth is inherently more disgusting than a computer generated eye flying through the air. If you are interested in seeing how horror effects were done in the 80’s then you have another reason to watch The Fly.

If a scientific exploration through one man’s body and dazzling, gross-out special effects aren’t enough candy for your show-bag, keep it open, because the career defining performance by Jeff Goldblum is enough to fill a show-bag all by itself! As much as you are watching special effects physically transform Seth’s body, you are also watching big, bad Jeff himself transform his character from a geeky scientist into the world’s #1 bad boy. Jeff is equally compelling at both ends of his character’s evolution. In the adorable nerd we meet at the beginning of the film, we see why Jeff has made a career out of playing eccentrics. The cold, confidence Seth develops later on in the film is equally unnerving and arousing…

Basically, WATCH THIS FILM!