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Short review of Tim Burton's return to form
Thankfully Tim Burton has rebounded back with his retelling of Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. A Burton-speciality, 'Charlie' is vivid, imaginative, childlike and slightly unerringly dark. It is brought to life by Johnny Depp's wonderful take on Willy Wonka, the slightly kooky chocolate factory owner who gives five children around the world the chance to win a visit to his mysterious chocolate factory. When the lavish production design fails to lift the story - there are slightly flat sections of the narrative - it's Depp's performance that carries the film, ultimately helping it surpass the 1974 Gene Wilder version by some distance. Truer to the source material than its earlier adaptation, you feel this is the version Dahl would have preferred: he was apparently known to truly detest children, a sentiment echoed by Depp as Wonka. Well worth repeat viewings, and kids will love the set design and the nut sorting room scene, which is the film's production highlight without doubt.
Stunning yet distant war film
Jarhead, based on the memoirs of Anthony Swofford, is a technically superb yet thoroughly distant film. Based on a book whose whole premise is a literal catarthism of personal experience, Jarhead the film is let down by a lack of perspective or individual expression.
The film starts well enough as Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) orates in voice-over the feelings associated with being a Marine, both during and after active duty. This monologue, conducted over a black screen, promises so much this will be a film which tells story whilst extolling human emotion there in the heat of the battle (or non-battle as the case is in this film). Instead Mendes and scriptwriter William Broyles Jr dispense with narration. Understandably, narration bogs a film down, but here, where the account is based on an individual's own story, the audience yearns to know what is going through a 20-year old's mind as he prepares for war. This absence of a singular voice turns Jarhead into just another war movie: showing beefed up, frat-boy jocks displaced in a foreign land. While we can see the antics of the boys in the desert we are curiously at arms length from them. We do not inhabit the space that Swofford occupies as we are not 'inside' his head at all. Therefore, to the audience, Swofford the protagonist is just another grunt.
The film is something of a post-modernist take on war films themselves. It unashamedly name drops the most famous war movies, either directly, with shots of the troops viewing Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter, or indirectly, with an obvious homage to Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket at the start of the film. In his book Swofford called war movies 'pornography for soldiers' and here Mendes shows us the grunts woop-wooping the infamous helicopter strike from Apocalypse Now. For these boys, all they want is action. For a brief moment, a scene so often marked as portraying the Americans as "evil white men", as so famously put by Pauline Kael, is flipped on its head. The seductive might and power of the American military is being triumphed and the audience becomes one with the soldiers. Yet again, this scene would have been best served by a voice-over from Swofford explaining his thoughts (I have not read the book, but he apparently talks of wanting to rape and pillage the villagers from that scene). If Mendes is already name-dropping and using Apocalypse Now as a reference point, why not follow Coppola's use of narration (so brilliantly written by Michael Herr)? It's a sore point of distance that lets down what could have been a great movie instead of just a good one.
The performances are all strong. In fact as pieces of acting, both individually and as an ensemble, Jarhead is excellent. Jamie Foxx stands out as the brash Staff Sgt. Sykes, a tough but warm leader, while Gyllenhaal and Peter Saarsgard (as Troy, Swofford's sniping partner) also perform well. Gyllenhaal's character would have been more memorable had we been allowed deeper into his mind, but as such it is Lucas Black as Kruger, an unusually politically aware Texan, who stands out. His nuanced performance as someone obviously more aware than he appears helps make up for Gyllenhaal's spectre-like Swofford.
While the script might not be watertight, Mendes excels in cinematography and editing. The Marines are stripped of colour as the desaturated images of boot camp and the desert make them appear pale and ghostly. Mendes' staging of the burning oil fields is the film's highlight; the Marines walk in bright sun towards a black sky, slowly becoming enveloped in crude oil. Mendes has used CGI in this section of the film, but it looks great. As a collection of images, Jarhead is brilliant. Audio quality is excellent too the various aural instances help invoke the feel of military life in the desert.
Mendes may have purposely avoided any comment about the current war in Iraq, oblique or obvious, to allow for better box office figures in the US. That's a cynical point of view however. This is Swofford's story and yes, there are scenes or dialogue that could references to the current situation at one point Swofford says in voice-over, "we are still in the desert" but his point is not directed at the US, it's directed at his platoon and their enduring memories of the conflict. This is a movie about the Gulf War, nothing more. Anti-war media and commentators hoping Mendes would use this film as a protest platform will be disappointed. In the end, Jarhead is a good war movie, but one without a voice. It's a well-made, high quality film. It just fails to stir the emotions and make a genuine connection with the audience. For all its technical and visual brilliance, that is a real shame.
King Kong (2005)
Entertainment on an epic scale
Peter Jackson's post-Lord of the Rings epic is a truly massive movie - big ape, big sets, big budget and big effects. It's stacked with A-list Hollywood talent, all performing with ease. It is almost as if there was no way this film WOULDN'T work.
Jackson's childhood-favourite film, King Kong (the 1933 version), is essentially a tragedy of unrequited love; the beast is unable to love the beauty. It is a fascination with man's undying passion for attempting to tame or destroy nature for his own ends. The plot revolves around film maker Carl Denham (Jack Black), whose last throw of the dice is to hijack his studio's equipment to shoot his latest film. Denham's lead star has left the film, so he hires poverty-stricken Ann Darrow (an excellent Naomi Watts) to fill the role. He also hoodwinks writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to come along for the ride - their boat trip heads for Skull Island, a mysterious watery enclave, where our friend Kong is waiting to be discovered.
The film suffers in the first hour - a slow pace and a touch of flab drag the film. The dread that might have been effective in sucking the boat towards Skull Island is lightly applied. Ponderings over Conrad and man's dark side are also brushed over. But expecting a popcorn-munching audience to connect to Hearts of Darkness might be a little too much to ask. As such, Jackson sticks to the task and gets on with the film. By the time the boat reaches Skull Island, Jackson is in top form.
The CGI of Kong is the best technical achievement of the movie. In fact it makes the pixelated world of the recent Star Wars films look amateurish - each nuance of Kong is fully realised from teeth to skin, cuts, eyes and especially hair all truly believable. Other creatures look superb too, though one scene that melds human actors with CGI is severely lacking and it's surprising Jackson let this pass without his Weta design team cleaning it up.
The production quality is excellent, with suitable barbaric 'natives' living on Skull Island (their resemblance to the Orcs in Lord of the Rings is a little too convenient), great costumes and set designs. Jackson delivers a New York that reminds the viewer of Richard Lester's Metropolis in Superman II, not expansive enough to be quite true. The CGI landscapes help, but always, they're not believable enough just yet.
At the film's end you feel comfortably entertained. But perhaps it's time Jackson pulled away from the Hollywood epic to create something a little more real, more authentic. His Heavenly Creatures was a beautiful and haunting film - King Kong is sensory overload. It will make a bucket of money, but is it art? Not quite, though Jackson clearly has the ability to transcend genre conventions. We wait to see what he comes up with next.
Arnie's last stand
Following James Cameron's original in this series, few could have projected Arnold Schwarzenegger's rise to Hollywood legend. The first film was a low-budget, B-grade (in theme and style only; the story was superb) sci-fi actioner. Arnie may have gone on to star in ill-advised yet somewhat bearable comedies, and the budget for "T2: Judgment Day" may have been among the biggest at the time, but at heart, Arnie was always a B-grade action movie actor. Films like "Raw Deal", "Total Recall", "Commando" and "Predator" reinforce his B-grade credentials. And as the final film in his career, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" is the fitting B-grade send-off for the most popular action star of the last twenty years.
Fans will be familiar enough with the story; a cyborg is sent back through time from a post-apocalyptic future where man fights machines for his very existence. The cyborg's mission is to destroy, or terminate, the leader of the human resistance, a certain John Connor. Of course, the human resistance sends back its own defence for the protection of Connor, first as a human solider to protect John's mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) in "The Terminator" (1984), then as a reprogrammed Terminator that bears an exact resemblance to the original cyborg, famously played by Schwarzenegger. Now, some 12 years after "T2", Arnie is sent back again, this time to protect a twenty-something John Connor (played by Nick Stahl) and a woman, Catherine Brewster (Claire Danes). After the failure of Arnie's T-800 in the original film, Robert Patrick's T-1000 in "T2", the machines decide on sending back a female cyborg, the T-X, played by newcomer Kristanna Loken.
"Terminator 3" starts as each other film in the series, with the two cyborgs entering earth nude and seeking out appropriate clothing. Thereafter it's a hunt to find Connor and Brewster first, and many cars, buildings and people are destroyed in the process. A stunning action set-piece, and without question the action highlight of the film, involves a crane on a truck driven by the T-X disecting a row of shops, all the time with the T-800 hanging on for dear life. This is the part of the film where the action transcends its B-movie confines. Generally however, the film sticks to being B-grade. What makes it B-grade? It's the lack of grandiosity, the almost claustrophobic nature of the sets, the lack of a huge cast and the cheap(ish) special effects. This is not a James Cameron movie, and although director Jonathan Mostow tries hard, he lacks that grand canvas approach that has made Cameron's films so successful.
While the story may be familiar, it takes a turn when we discover that Brewster's father is the man responsible for the managing of Skynet, the computer programme that subsequently launches attacks against man. This subplot is the best narrative transition from the first two films, which essentially were exactly the same. In fact, the subplot itself delivers a surprising and highly effective twist at the conclusion of the film. You can't help but think that this would have been the best way to end "T2", rather than the schmoltzy goodbyes between the Terminator and John Connor (then played by Edward Furlong).
Furlong's absence from this film, while not perfect for continuity reasons, is not a major factor. Stahl plays Connor with immediacy and power and while he cannot always project the mood of a man with the world's future on his shoulders, he does work well with Schwarzenegger and Danes. She herself is really only working on autopilot, and although she shows occasional signs of depth, the role, or moreso the sci-fi nature of the plot seems to escape her. Loken is suitably wooden as the emotionless T-X, and lacks the weasel-like menace of Robert Patrick's T-1000. Her battles with Arnie are impressive however.
And then there's Arnie himself. He's always been great at non-emotive, physical acting, and he once again performs well here. The Austrian accent seems thicker than ever, and although he moves a little slower, he still projects power and strength. His whole career was built on films that emphasised his physical presence, filling the screen with his muscles and big aura. But every action hero's career comes to an end. In a fitting epitaph to his career, the Terminator speaks of being an obsolete model, without any purpose. Just as well Arnie ended his career here, with a role and film that symbolised Arnold Schwarzenegger the actor perfectly.
Good introduction, but nothing on the book
The last golden age of Hollywood film-making is captured in this two hour documentary, based on Peter Biskind's bestselling book of the same name. Director Kenneth Bowser does a commendable job of corralling many of the key names of the period in this light but passable introduction to the topic.
Bowser's treatise of 1970s Hollywood is essentially a potted history of the time many of the key developments and vital films that were made during this period are passed over or given nothing more than a cursory glance. The documentary suffers as a result and added to this, historical inaccuracies are also evident.
Film fans will most enjoy the scenes of archival footage a desperately nerdy George Lucas being introduced as Francis Ford Coppola's 'assistant'; Jack Nicholson, Bob Rafelson, Dennis Hopper and Peter Tork on the set of The Monkees vehicle 'Head'; and the piece de resistance, a home movie with Messrs Spielberg, Lucas, Milius, Coppola, de Palma, Schrader and Scorsese all in the same room. To be a fly on the wall at that party!
There are also current interviews with the likes of Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Peter Bart, John Milius, Michael Phillips, Paul Schrader, Peter Fonda, Albert S. Ruddy and many more figures of the time.
Bowser's documentary serves as a snapshot of the time Biskind's novel is a veritable diary. The book is packed with amazing stories that even a 13-part series couldn't document. Watch this documentary, get a taste of the time and then buy the book to immerse yourself in a fantastic period of American filmic creativity.
American art genius gets fine biopic.
Whether you like the art of arguably America's greatest artist is a moot point when it comes to watching "Pollock". It's Ed Harris's tour de force. Never has he been so convincing or seemingly passionate about his role or the film in which he is starring.
It could be argued that Harris's interest in making "Pollock" drew more out of his resemblance to the painter than to a genuine urge to depict one of his heroes. But judging by Harris's work here it would be foolish to put forward such an opinion. Harris is genuinely brilliant in the title role and as director, he holds the film together, making for an interesting and thankfully unpretentious biopic of a tortured genius.
The film opens in 1950, at a Jackson Pollock exhibition. The great man himself stands delirious, gazing into space, his paint splattered hand reaching into his jacket pocket to sign obligatory autographs. From this opening scene we can tell this is a man jaded by fame and celebrity.
Jump back nine years earlier and we see the beginnings of Pollock's rise to fame. We also witness his disease of alcoholism. Living in his brother's apartment, Jackson's roguish and potentially violent personality is at odds with his emotional frailty.
He eventually meets Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), a New York painter who is awestruck when viewing Pollock's work. She convinces him to work hard and they end up in a relationship. It seems Krasner was more of a mentor and guide than as a lover, but there is a distinctive bond between the two that is hard to ignore.
Thanks to Krasner's enthusiasm for his work, Pollock becomes more productive. He catches the eye of wealthy and influential art collector Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan), eventually securing wall space at one of her galleries. But as his stock rises, Pollock drinks even more heavily, causing him to behave erratically, hurting those close to him, especially Krasner.
Pollock's transformation to pure abstract expressionist is a delight to see. It begins with his mural work for Guggenheim and continues when he and Krasner move to Long Island. The genesis for the 'drip' paintings is brilliantly captured by Harris and cinematographer Lisa Rinzler and the action of the execution of his work is thrilling to watch.
As in all great artistic tragedies go, Pollock's life is undone by his fame and we are painfully caught up in his final years of artistic and emotional decline. As gifted as he was, Pollock was short-changed when it came to his mental stability.
Ed Harris was deservedly nominated for an Oscar, though there was occasionally a feeling that the viewer is watching Ed Harris play Jackson Pollock rather than just seeing Pollock himself. Harden is superb as Krasner, a tower of strength against Pollock's whirlwind of emotion and drunken stupor.
The flow of this film helps it stand above other efforts, most notably "Basquiat" and "Surviving Picasso". It lacks any arty pretence, simply portraying a man with at once an incredible gift and a horrible ailment. Art focussed or not, this is a solid movie whose praise is deserved.
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Dressy sci-fi paranoia
"Twelve Monkeys" is an engaging foray into the possibility of a non-nuclear apocalypse, an armaggedon caused by the release of a killer virus. These kind of apocalyptic movies, contagious virus or otherwise, were all the rage in the mid-90s, and where others such as "Deep Impact" or "Outbreak" failed, "Twelve Monkeys" can be considered a triumph. Plot loopholes and lapses in effective pacing aside, the film is a strong effort from Monty Python illustrator and cult favourite director Terry Gilliam.
Any film with Bruce Willis as the lead can often make or break a movie. Some are drawn to his machismo and semblances of 'aura' for want of a better word, while others are put off by his near-complete lack of range or cocky attitude. It is fair to say I am caught between both camps. I admire Willis' self-assurance but feel he is drastically over-rated. He stars as James Cole, a man born in the pre-apocalyptic world, living in the post-apocalyptic underground. Seeking a pardon from past crimes, Cole wishes to return to 1996 via time travel to find a cure for the virus in present (2021 as it is to him) day. By locating the scientist who created the virus in the past he will find out how to cure the people of the future.
Only animals have survived the apocalypse, while humans have been forced to live underground. In a chilling scene Willis' character, dressed in an elaborate spacesuit, explores the upper world. As he walks through what was once Philadelphia he comes across giant bears and lions. Once again beasts rule the earth. It's Darwinism in reverse and what is even more scary is the impact man has had on the world. Not only has he forever changed the face of the natural planet, but he has even managed to conjure up his own destruction.
Cole is sent back through time to 1996, only he arrives at his destination six years earlier. Arrested and thrown into a mental institution, Cole is drugged to the eyeballs. Would you believe someone who said they were from the future and were warning you of an impending killer virus? Whilst in the institution he meets Jeffery Goines (Brad Pitt), a complete nutball who hails from a privileged background. The two begin to talk and Cole's desperate mission continues to go awry. A psychiatrist named Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) is assigned to Cole's case. She is drawn further into Cole's story, to the point where she becomes his hostage as he desperately tries to locate a cure for the disease.
The film's best scenes occur in the future. Gilliam's set design is at once trash-metal and chic. The costume design is a highlight, the spacesuit -- all clear plastic and balloon-ish tubing -- stands out. Gilliam's erratic camerawork is sometimes annoying, he tries a little too hard on capturing the madness of the asylum. The performances are strong, if a little overdone. Willis' best work often comes through in action movies. His best scene comes after an arrest. Drooling, chained to the floor and pumped with tranquilisers, Willis is more the madman than Pitt is in the entire movie. Pitt's performance, initially interesting, gets tiresome. He's too manic, yet at the same time too coherent. While he was Oscar nominated for this role, his work as the more subdued maniac Tyler Duerden in "Fight Club" is his best. Stowe, an excellent character actress, is convincing as the shrink trying to help Cole, but she falters when the tempo is increased.
"Twelve Monkeys" draws on some excellent points concerning science, the environment, selective memory and our perceptions of the truth. Its basic story treads very familiar ground, but its quality of production and determined manic feel from its director allow it to stand above its competitors. Interesting, compelling and entertaining, "Twelve Monkeys" proves you can make an old idea work when you treat it in an original manner.
The Song Remains the Same (1976)
"The Song Remains The Same" is essentially a film of a concert, yet thanks to the drug and ego-addled personalities of Led Zeppelin in the mid-1970s, the footage is fleshed out to include weird 'fantasy' sequences involving each of the four band members. While this section of the movie leaves a little to be desired, the concert footage is truly breathtaking, capturing the greatest hard rock band in history at their apogee.
The film opens with an odd gangster-style sequence, where faceless mobsters are mowed down by what would appear to be rival gangsters. Whatever meaning this scene is meant to represent is not clear, however it has been suggested that the faceless mobsters are the British press, who had vilified Led Zeppelin through their entire career. Who knows, but it certainly makes for an interesting start to the film.
From there the film takes an interesting turn. Each individual band member is introduced. We see drummer John Bonham ploughing his fields in a tractor, bassist John Paul Jones reading nursery rhymes to his children, singer Robert Plant playing with his wife and children in an English country lake (the scene resembles the cover of Led Zeppelin's 1973 album 'Houses of the Holy'), while guitarist Jimmy Page is introduced next to a riverside. They each receive a letter informing them that they are to tour the next day.
Once Led Zeppelin take the stage at New York's Madison Square Garden, the action really begins. The band run through some of their absolute classics, including 'Whole Lotta Love', 'Stairway to Heaven', 'Heartbreaker' and a massive version of 'Dazed and Confused'. The quality of musicianship is amazing. Page's guitar playing belies belief and John Bonham's twenty minute drum solo is awe inspiring. As the band plays there are more fantasy scenes, the best of which includes Robert Plant as some kind of Arthurian hero. The way in which Led Zeppelin embrace and play on the Tolkien-like world of mystical fantasy is truly refreshing in these over-stylised days, where musicians are more concerned with the amount of gel in their hair than the music they produce.
Watching the band at work you get a distinct feeling that the musicians of today really aren't as proficient as they were twenty or thirty years ago. Led Zeppelin it seems were better live than on record, which would be unheard of today.
As an audience we are able to see "The Song Remains The Same" for what it is: a timepiece. Post-1975, Led Zeppelin's work became gradually lower in quality and as Punk revolutionised the music scene, they became dinosaurs at the end of the decade. But in this time, their 1971-1975 period, Led Zeppelin were the biggest band in the world, and their power is captured with brilliant clarity on this film. Whatever happened after this time is a moot point; this is how Led Zeppelin should and will be remembered. A must for any serious music fan.
Queen of the Damned (2002)
This is a bad, bad film
I'm usually not inclined to write reviews about films I don't think deserve a mention. But, in the quest to grow as a writer and film critic, I feel it is important to express my thoughts when I DON'T like a film. "Queen of the Damned" is one of those films.
Anne Rice's popular horror stories of Lestat, a bisexual Vampire, first took to the screen in 1994 in the successful "An Interview With A Vampire". Starring two of Hollywood's biggest heavyweights in Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, the film's stylish aesthetic and gothic mise en scene captured the audience. While it may have been a case of style way over substance, there was something about it that worked, despite its chessiness (I have never been that enamoured with the Vampire genre in general).
Since that time Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise have gone on to much bigger things. It's likely both would have roared with laughter when asked to appear in a sequel. They would have been laughing even harder when they saw the final outcome. "Queen of the Damned" typifies the type of cr*p Hollywood is content to put out at a low cost with the hope of earning a quick buck thanks to an average soundtrack and big marketing campaign aimed at 13 to 17 year olds.
Needless to say this film is terrible from the start. Lestat, now played by Brit Stuart Townsend of "Shooting Fish" fame, awakens from his dark grave to the sound of... you guessed it, Nu-Metal. He freaks out some confused punkish musicians and joins their band, under the proviso that he only appear at night, what with the sun burning his skin and all during the day...
Jesse (Marguerite Moreau), a student studying the paranormal (Vampire Studies 101 perhaps?), tries to find out if Lestat really is who he says he is. Along the way she falls for him (something to do with her odd past), but has a little competition in Queen Akasha (Aaliyah), a Vampire demon queen who is returning from the underworld to acquire Lestat as her chosen King.
The film is shamefully self-indulgant, yet its campy tone leaves some room for its depreciating humour. Anybody who sees this film for anything but a good laugh needs to see more films in general! Watching Townsend is enjoyable. He knows the role is utterly over the top and does his best to walk the tightrope between utter hamming and serious acting. The late Aaliyah is, unfortunately, terrible in the title role. She has minimal screentime, and what she does have she does not use to the fullest. The poor makeup and special effects do not help; at times she sounds like she's talking through a voicebox.
It is rumoured that this film was heading straight to video until Aaliyah's untimely death last year. With the possibility for people to see her final film, Warner Bros put this out to a general release. Otherwise this would have been one of those movies you see on the shelf at video shops but avoid because you can tell it is going to be simply terrible.
No doubt films like this will continue to be made. Look at the spate of teen rom-com rip offs around or the spoofing of that genre itself with films like "Not Another Teen Movie". If there is a market to exploit Hollywood will do so.
The biggest issue I have with this film is not the film itself. Hollywood is about making money, so if there is a market for this film then they will pursue it. That's business. But what concerns me the most is that people will actively go out to the cinema and pay money to watch it! I guess that's the biggest argument in the world of cinema: is film art first and entertainment second, or is it the other way around? The only people who can decide that is the audience. If you like and are intrigued by good films, stay clear of this turkey.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
A tale of hope and ambition
Too many people have complained that "Saturday Night Fever" isn't a disco movie first and urban drama second. Released at the height of disco, the film has too easily become associated with the Bee Gees soundtrack and John Travolta's white suit. These are side issues for the film, just window dressing. Sure, the soundtrack certainly evokes memories of the 1970s effectively. But the retro revival of the late 20th century ensured we became very familiar with the 1970s, so in that sense the music, the discos and the costumes can be put in the background and the audience can concentrate on the story. "Saturday Night Fever" is an effective drama about ambition, dreams and the harsh realities of life.
The funniest thing about "Saturday Night Fever" is that it is essentially a film stuck in the 1970s. There is no way that Tony Manero (John Travolta) could possibly act the way he did then in today's society. Tony is essentially a bum, a dropout deadbeat in a low-paid job with no future ahead of him. The only thing Tony excels at is dancing, not professionally, but at his local disco, the amusingly titled Odyssey 2001. He and his friends live like Neanderthals, existing in a life of drugs, boredom and aggression.
They are the epitome of misogyny - it's almost disturbing how lowly they regard women.
Tony's life begins to change due to two factors. Firstly his brother Frank (Martin Shakar), a priest, returns home with some unexpected news. Held up as an angel by his parents, Frank's sombre return to the Manero house ignites a spark in Tony if Frank can change, why can't he? Tony's family is generally loveless. His father (Val Bisoglio) is bitter for not having the life he always wanted, and perhaps more so because he never gave Tony the support he needed as a child. As a result Tony has grown up to be the image of his father: uneducated and going nowhere. All Tony's mother (Julie Bovasso) sees is the realisation that Frank is everything the family wanted (a Priest for a son!), while Tony is nothing but a deadbeat.
The second factor that changes Tony's life is his discovery of Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney). He first encounters Stephanie at the Odyssey 2001. Different to all the other girls Tony has been with, Stephanie, at least to Tony, represents a higher class of girl. He wants her, and combined with this desire is a need for change and progression. For what could be the first time in his life, Tony has ambition.
As an audience we feel for Tony and share his sense of ambition to cross the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. In Stephanie he sees himself a person from his own background that has made something of herself. Of course we learn that Stephanie, for all her celebrity namedropping and airs and graces, is essentially the same as Tony, possibly even more of a dreamer. While we may not connect to Tony and Stephanie their lack of intelligence is a little overpowering at times we want them to succeed. The scene where Tony tells Stephanie a story about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is truly touching. They both realise that they can succeed, but also, that the world is a lot more dangerous and difficult than they can ever imagine.
The conclusion of the film is slightly weak and predictable, but it is generally satisfying. It is unfortunate that it takes a tragedy for Tony to finally shape up, but perhaps that was what was needed for him to turn his life around. As the credits roll we are hopeful that Tony and Stephanie will succeed but not entirely confident in their abilities.
John Travolta reprised his role as Tony in the sequel "Stayin' Alive", directed by Sylvester Stallone. It contained some outstanding dance scenes, but lacked the grubby optimism of the original. While the dancing in "Saturday Night Fever" is truly brilliant, the story is an underrated and effective drama that carries the audience along a journey of hope and discovery in an unforgiving world.