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God doesn't rob banks!
Such a refreshing film has not graced screens in a long, long time. Or at least not for a genre. Love Actually did it for the romantic comedy genre, Doctor Who (2005) did it for the science fiction TV genre, Serenity did it for the sci-fi movie genre, etc. Millions did it for the family genre -- obviously -- but I would go as far to say it sort of transcends the family genre. It is a standalone story, and like director Danny Boyle, cannot be pigeonholed into a specific mold. Both the story and film are sweet without being diabetic, good-natured without being gullible, loving without being smothering, touching without being groping, and awe-inspiring without being naive. Surprisingly wonderful performances out of all of the actors, especially Alex Etel. To be able to pull off the insight and understanding a role like this requires, and at such a young age...I want to hear what Haley Joel Osment or Dakota Fanning would have to say about him. Unlike their movies, this is no horror sci-fi thriller or daring, gripping drama. This is a straightforward story that deals with subjects much more complicated or real than Osment or Fanning have had to deal with, and which makes Alex Etel's performance all the more commendable (understatement?). And of course, Danny Boyle's brilliance shines through in every scene. His ability to make his trademark style (clever cuts, stop-motion sequences, etc.) work with such a tender (without being weak) story is amazing, and definitely inspiring. For the fans who doubt that this is Boyle will be completely reassured with the very clever scenes explaining the origin of the money.
Brilliant plot, brilliant performances, stellar direction and commendable care make this film worthy of a LOT more attention and applause. If only more filmmakers would be so refreshingly daring, especially Hollywood filmmakers, there would be a renaissance of sorts for movies all over the world. But of course, that's just wishful thinking.
Love this movie.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
I miss my friend
In the 11 years since the release and realization of the brilliance of this film, I'm sure many, many legions of people have written reviews that summarily praise (and viscously, ignorantly degrade - you know who you are, those whose reviews appear under the "hated" tag on the reviews pages) and criticize the movie. I can't add anything that hasn't been said before, except just say how much this movie affected me and how much I love it.
Tim Robbins, always a great actor, and always very, very human. Morgan Freeman, c'mon, who da man? Who da MAN?!?!? HE DA MAN!!! He DA MAN!!! He DA smooth-walkin', smoother-talking', illest muthaf***in' epitome of "cool". And not a bad actor, either, heh heh (yes, I know I am drastically understating that fact).
The direction - flawless. Every shot, every camera angle, every color tone (plus the quality of the film and the cameras themselves) embody such finesse, such power. Humanity! That's what the word I was looking for, the word that describes what every frame overwhelmingly emanates, even during the "brutal" scenes (I put "brutal" in quotes because I unfortunately have seen plenty of sick s@%* in my life and am now sadly desensitized to movie violence; violence on the news and in real life though, DAMN I get sickened and angered at perpetrators). The very human friendship twixt the leads are very well handled, never turning into cutesy schmaltz or soap-y melodrama.
The writing. Yes, I know. "How the hell does his cell open up into a pipe drain? That's horrible plot!!!!!!" Ask yourselves: If his cell wall didn't open up over the pipe, would he have escaped? Would the story have been the same AT ALL if his cell opened up anywhere else other than that river of s@%*? And then think about Andy. Would someone of his intelligence would have discontinued his digging and succumbed to madness if what he saw when he looked through the initial tiny hole on the other side was anything other than a road to freedom? Convenient plot twist? Sure! But not outlandish. It could happen (not like a New York Cop winning a $4M lottery ticket and tipping a waitress half, no matter how much he wanted to get with her). Very good storytelling and very tight screen writing.
This movie is great. Plain and simple. It did confirm one thing in general to me, though, especially in these times of moral conflict that is dividing the "greatest nation on the face of the earth" bitterly: Those who thump the bible the hardest, usually cling to it the hardest out of fear and out of guilt.
Love this film.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Carpe Diem, because the days don't stand still
First of all, this is movie is my all-time favorite, out of all the hundreds of films I have seen. However, every time I mention this film, I have to answer most people's quizzical looks with "It's a beautiful little 80s film that stayed in the 80s." After seeing it for the 24th time since I first saw it 5 years ago, on my 13th birthday, I can gladly say that this movie went far and beyond the 80s, and the power and inspiration of the message can be felt every day.
Dead Poets Society is a most underrated film by a most underrated director whose inspiring, uplifting and moral tales firmly grounded in reality are not nearly as appreciated as they should be. Here, we see one of his very personal and cradled projects, and he shows the visual style and concentration on characters in which he is so affluent. His control of the camera and the characters are very strong and very smooth. The cinematography is near perfect, with every shot, along with the editing, seamless. Also very compelling are the color-tones in every scene, perfectly matching the mood and events of the scene. Could you say this is art? Absolutely.
Then we have the performances. Robin Williams continues in stride as one who has to-date remained the most touching, heart-wrenching, awe-inspiring comedians with inarguable acting talent (he still remains my most favorite performer on the film screen). His Professor John Keating is a man who embodies every professor who you thought was cool and respectable, every person who taught or enlightened you in something out of the ordinary. In fact - dare I say it? - he teaches something EXTRAORDINARY! We have the tragically underrated Robert Sean Leonard in his role as the free-thinking catalyst student Neil. Why is this man not a household name/Hollywood heavyweight? His roles are always full of inspiration, energy, and tragic emotion that never fail to move an audience. His role in this movie is fresh, unhindered, and never pretentious as the cautionary tale of the movie. And then we have Ethan Hawke in one of his earliest roles as the point-of-view character. The entire supporting cast is very strong, also, providing the foundation and serve as the various emotional ties that further involve us in the story. Josh Charles's role as Knox Overstreet is a role that almost all guys can relate to wholeheartedly. And of course, all the actors who are in that Dead Poets Society do a fine job.
And lastly, the story. I won't summarize it since it's been summarized many times here, but I will say that it is one of the best coming of age stories for not only adolescents, but anyone. I have personally heard from nine-to-fivers who were inspired by this movie to change the situations of their jobs, careers, relationships for the better. I first saw this movie when I was 13, and immediately stamped, crowned and elevated this movie as my all-time favorite. Now that I am 18 and living on my own, with very different concerns than back then, I turn back to this movie over and over again, to find inspiration, solace and of course, entertainment. It is still my all-time favorite, and it still inspires me to seize the day and make my life extraordinary.