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Star Wars (1977)
Sci-fi landmark that changed Hollywood cinema forever
I wasn't around to see this in 1977 but it must have been quite something for audiences to witness at the time on the big screen. It's become so iconic and immersed in pop culture that it's sometimes hard to just focus and enjoy the movie itself and not see it as a part of a huge phenomenon.
All it's status and fan base aside, I try to do just that when I watch it and still enjoy it for what it is. For all it's imagination, the plot is nice and simple, basically a good guys VS bad guys western in space, leaving you to not think too hard about anything but just enjoy the many weird and wonderful locations and the characters.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is a farm boy who wants to leave his home and fight the dark imperial forces led by the sinister Darth Vader, and it isn't long before he's thrust into an adventure after he meets the ageing Obi Won Kenobi (Alec Guiness). Hamill does fine as Skywalker but he is outshone by the much more interesting Guiness, and Harrison Ford, in one of his earliest roles as cocky pilot Han Solo, who finds himself reluctantly embroiled in their mission. Ford not only gets to play the most likable character but he has the confidence and screen charisma to be much more memorable than the protagonist.
Even so, all the other characters are great too. The droids R2-D2, and C3P0, Han Solo's hairy sidekick - the Wookie, Chewbacca, and the feisty Princess Leia, (Carrie Fisher) who doesn't fit into the typical Hollywood damsel in distress category at the time.
Some of the dialogue may now seem a bit corny, and some of the acting mediocre but it doesn't matter because there's a light, campy tone to the movie anyway, so it doesn't ruin the enjoyment. In fact adds to it for me.
Lucas' genius was mixing Samurai and western elements with Sci-fi and using what he had with the budget to create a bizarre and memorable universe. Seen now, compared to the pace of modern Sci-fi movies, the movie's first half actually moves along quite slow, which is no bad thing in my view. It allows you to be pulled into it's world, and he cleverly uses the droid characters to take you on the journey, from the opening sequence right until the end. A revolutionary idea for the time. But then there's so many things about Star Wars that's revolutionary.
Lucas has since tinkered about with the original trilogy and has ruined the franchise for many not only by doing this but with his prequel trilogy too. In some ways I agree but it doesn't take anything away from what he achieved with this in 1977. A movie that opened up audiences' imaginations and still holds up as not just as an influential classic but an entertaining fantasy adventure in it's own right.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Classic action adventure that introduced the most famous treasure hunter.
Harrison Ford was pushed into Hollywood A-list and became a movie icon with his famous role here, as Indiana Jones. A University teacher of Archeology, and also a tough guy adventurer who risks his life in searches for ancient artifacts in dangerous jungles and deserts.
Director Steven Spielberg made this as an homage to the adventure serials of the 1930's/40's and it works superbly from start to finish.
The movie begins with one of the most iconic opening sequences of all time. It's action packed and exciting and tells you everything you need to know about Indiana Jones within moments, before the main plot kicks in, which focuses on Indy's quest to get hold of the mystical Ark of the covenant before the Nazi's do.
Despite been considered a classic action adventure, there's quite a few long sequences throughout where the action stops. But it never becomes dull because there's always something interesting happening or something visually stunning to look at. But when the action scenes arrive they are exciting and memorable, and are much better executed than any movie made nowadays that rely heavily on CGI. Just pure stunt work and real explosions, and the tone of the movie just has the right amount of seriousness and humour to it, which makes the plot and the action even better. The special effects still hold up after all these years and even if they do look a bit cartoon-like it actually adds to the movie because of it's intentional references to older Hollywood B-movies.
Ford really makes the movie but he has a fine cast to support him. Karen Allen as his love interest Marion, Paul Freeman as his rival Belloq, John Rhys-Davies as his friend Sallah, and of course who can forget one of the most menacing and creepiest villains to appear in a family movie, Ronald Lacey as a Nazi officer.
Everything about the movie is terrific. The cast, direction, cinematography, and last but not least John Williams' memorable score, which perfectly fits the protagonist and Spielberg's tongue in cheek tone.
Back to the Future Part III (1990)
A great end to a great trilogy.
The third and final part in the Sci-Fi Comedy trilogy picks up directly from the second movie with Marty stranded in 1955, after Doc was accidentally sent back to 1885. Instead of going back home to 1985, Marty decides to go back to the old West when he discovers Doc's fate in 1885 is that he will be shot dead by Biff Tannen's ruthless grandfather Buford "Mad Dog".
The second and third movies in the trilogy seem to divide opinion. Some prefer the more special effects and plot driven 2, and some prefer the more relaxed, character driven nature of this one. I personally love both and I'm glad they offer different things. As much as I like 2 for fully taking advantage of the Time Travel concept, I'm glad that the film-makers didn't try to go further with the special effects and ideas. The first movie despite it's premise was more about character and heart than it was action and special effects and it was good to see a return to that here.
Third time around, Michael J.Fox and Christopher Lloyd are still on great form and playing off each other well. And it's good to see Marty and Doc interact with each other more here, the plot really gets to flesh out their friendship, and even Doc's character when he meets and falls in love with a schoolteacher (Mary Steenburgen).
The movie looks fantastic. Director Robert Zemeckis said he wanted to make a western and his affection for them is on full display. There's some desert scenery and photography here that was shot at Monument Valley which instantly reminds you of The Searchers. With Marty using Clint Eastwood as his alias and after the brief clip of Fistful Of Dollars in the second movie it's no surprise that the spaghetti westerns come in for the spoof treatment, but with Marty been a civilized "fish out of water" and Buford a nasty bully, the movie mainly pays homage to the classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And just in case you don't get the instant reference Tannen even calls him dude. But despite all the amusing in-jokes and send-ups at play, the film thankfully still has it's own originality and carries that distinctive charm the previous BTTF movies had.
It's a good-natured sequel that builds up to an entertaining showdown in the street, and then a well staged sequence with a speeding train that's just as exciting as the climax of the first movie involving the clock tower.
I'm just glad they ended the series like this before the ideas became tired and repetitive. Many franchises are ruined by too many sequels and thankfully this wasn't one of them.
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Fun, fast-paced sequel
Picking up right where the original movie left off, Robert Zemeckis' sequel to the 1985 hit is a blast from start to finish.
Considering the original was meant to be a stand alone movie and the ending where Marty and Doc flew off to the future was meant as a joke, the writers did wonders with the script here. They backed themselves into a corner where they were forced to start the movie in the future with Jennifer (now played by Elisabeth Shue) joining them but with a clever plot full of twists, it works perfectly.
Marty and Doc arrive in 2015 to try and prevent an event which threatens to destroy Marty's entire family's future and things look very different from 1985.
Rather than portraying a realistic version of what they predicted the future would be like, the writers and director wisely played it for laughs. That said it's amazing how many technological things in the movie have actually happened since it was made. The special effects, in particular the flying cars and hover boards still hold up well 25 years later.
The script plays around with it's ideas and makes some funny references to the first movie without looking tired, instead it's more like a wink to the audience that adds to the enjoyment.
The only time the movie really slows down is when it shows older Marty at home with his family but the point is to show the similarities between Marty's family and his own before he changed things for the better. Having been injured in a drag race, Marty is now just as much a loser as his dad was and his family are just as dysfunctional. It might seem like a bit of a pointless sequence on first viewing but it's setting up an important plot point for the third movie.
Once Marty and Doc have taken care of Marty's future family problem the main plot kicks in when Biff steals the Delorean to change history for the worst and this is where the movie really takes off. Marty and Doc's only hope to salvage everything is to get back to 1955, in order to save the future.
It's an original and entertaining scenario to see the events of the original movie from a different perspective, and amazingly it avoids becoming dull by doing so.
Fox and Lloyd once again show off great chemistry together and put a lot of energy into their roles. Fox is funny playing his older self, his son and even his daughter! And Thomas F.Wilson is even better than he was in the original. Now he's playing different ages and versions of Biff in different time lines, as well as the grandson Griff, and he pulls it off very well.
From 2015 to a nightmarish 1985 and all the way back to 1955, it's a fun, fast-paced sequel full of wit and imagination.
Back to the Future (1985)
Nearly 30 years on and it's still a terrific movie.
Michael J.Fox is perfectly cast as Marty Mcfly, a teenager who's family is dysfunctional to say the least. His mother Lorraine (Lea Thonpson) is an heavy drinker and his father George (Crispin Glover) is a complete loser who is still been stepped on by Biff Tannen (Thomas F.Wilson) the same guy who's been bullying him since high school. These things are the least of Marty's problems though when he is accidentally sent back to 1955 in his friend Doc Brown's (Christopher Lloyd) plutonium powered Delorean time machine, and jeopardises his own existence when he inadvertently interferes with his parents first meeting.
The movie is huge fun. The cast is great. Fox and Lloyd are superb in their roles, as are the rest of the cast, and the plot itself is storytelling at it's finest. Not one single wasted moment. Every moment advances plot and character. Throwaway lines or minor moments usually have an important part to play in the story later on.
It's hard to think of another movie that successfully blends so many genres together, if at all. Sci-fi, Comedy, Action, Romance, this has it all and it's great entertainment from start to finish.
Many things about the movie have become iconic, from the Delorean, the quotes, and of course, Fox performing Johnny B.Goode. It's full of wit and clever ideas, and has aged superbly like fine wine.
It has something for people of all ages, whether you're 5 or 85 it's a charming movie that has a lot to offer.
El Dorado (1966)
More than just a re-working of Rio Bravo, a classic in it's own right
Six years after the success of Rio Bravo, director Howard Hawks re-worked elements of the plot for another great western with The Duke. The comparisons between the two films are in inevitable but this doesn't actually start to even resemble the previous film until around the halfway mark and by then it's already pulled you into it's story and warmed you to it's characters that it doesn't matter anyway. Personally I love both films but if I was forced to choose I'd probably say this was the superior film. I felt that Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson were too lightweight in Rio Bravo, whereas Robert Mitchum and James Caan here are perfectly cast and bring more to the table. I also think it works better to have an actual sheriff be the drunk (in this case Robert Mitchum in the role) rather than a deputy, and to have his friends try and help him get back on his feet and regain his dignity and self respect. But it's just a matter of opinion.
Mitchum is fantastic in this as the drunken friend of gunslinger John Wayne. I'm not usually a fan of his but he really delivers the goods here. He's funny, pitiful and gutsy throughout. One of the best scenes shows him going into the saloon to get a bottle of whiskey and the townsfolk are laughing at him. It's a brilliant moment. He's been living in his own little bubble for months and it takes this for him to wake up and realise how far he's sunk. The way he walks out holding his bottle in such a pathetic manner and tries to keep it together when he sees his friend John Wayne looking at how terrible he looks, is a great piece of acting. Not a single word spoken from him. Equally good is the scene where he later goes back to the saloon and shows the bad guys and the residents he's still got what it takes. He really does put his own stamp all over this performance.
And The Duke is The Duke. What more has to be said. By this time these roles just fit him like a glove but he has a really good part here to sink his teeth into rather than just been the typical hero. Near the beginning of the film he shoots a teenage boy in self defence, which results in the boy killing himself. This is a great sequence, where Wayne shows off just in his expression how guilty he feels. It also gives him a personal reason to get involved in helping out the boy's family later on.In many ways this is a funnier film than Rio Bravo but at the same time it's also a darker film in other ways and this is one such moment. John Wayne been responsible for a boy's death is certainly not something that would happen often in his films.
James Caan plays a young cardsharp nicknamed Mississippi who befriends Wayne and Arthur Hunnicut plays Bull, an ex-Indian fighter turned deputy to Mitchum's sheriff. The film is really the Wayne and Mitchum show but these guys also have their moments and fit in nicely. The camaraderie between the four of them as they hole up in the sheriff's office, and their banter during the shootouts is consistently funny.
Charlene Holt and Michelle Carey are both suitably sexy and provide some eye candy to balance out the male dominant proceedings, and Christopher George makes a memorable villain has a gunslinger with a moral code which makes a refreshing change in a traditional western.
When it comes to the good guys vs bad guys, I think it works well if the good guys are outnumbered or are lacking in their skills to make them underdogs that you can really root for. Well in this case, these heroes are both outnumbered and lacking. J.P's struggling with his alcoholism, Bull is getting on in years, and Mississippi can't shoot straight. In fact his shooting's so bad he carries a shotgun instead of a pistol and then he's not much better. And Wayne suffers with periodic paralysis from a bullet that is lodged near his spine. So they have to make up for it with guts. Every time I watch this film I like it even more. They are just a great bunch of characters to hang out with.
Hawks certainly knew how to make a great western and here he delivers again. From the great opening theme song right through to the climax, this is a joy for it's entire 2 hour running time. Despite the similarities it doesn't belong in Rio Bravo's shadow in my view, it deserves to be regarded as classic in it's own right.
Rio Bravo (1959)
A truly great western from Howard Hawks
An absolute classic with The Duke playing to his strengths as the small town sheriff holding a murderer in his jail and keeping alert, waiting and watching for the murderer's brother and his men who are attempting to break him out. At his side are recovering alcoholic, Dude (Dean Martin), young gunslinger Colorado (Ricky Nelson) and cantankerous old cripple Stumpy (Walter Brennan) who doesn't leave the jail for the majority of the film.
This isn't so much about the plot as it is the characters, atmosphere and tension. The Duke is perfect as John T.Chance. His effortless star quality and laid back persona comes across great in every scene he's in. He's tough, brave and not scared of any man but introduce him to a woman and it's an whole other matter. When he meets sexy new woman in town (Angie Dickinson)he's shy and awkward and completely out of his comfort zone.
One of the best aspects of the film is the fact that it was made in 1959, when men were supposed to be men, rough, tough and "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" but surprisingly the men here are portrayed as warm, flawed and vulnerable.It's way ahead of it's time in that respect. This is also a buddy film. The main characters have an underlining respect and affection for each other that is hardly ever spoken, it's shown purely through their expressions and actions. For instance the scene where Chance hands Dude his guns back that Dude had sold to buy booze and didn't even know Chance had, speaks volumes. As does the scene where Stumpy mistakes Dude for a villain and nearly kills him. Dude finally realises just how low he has sunk after getting cleaned up if his own friend didn't recognise him and Stumpy feels terrible and scared that he nearly killed him. There's so many great moments between the cast.
This isn't really a movie about holding a prisoner at all, that plot point is merely an excuse to show the loyalty and friendship between the characters. The cast is great and the chemistry between them is terrific. It's consistently humorous without coming across as forced and on many occasions even looks ad-libbed it's so natural. Even the moment when the guys lock themselves away in the jail and kick back for a sing along (minus the Duke) somehow works.The bad guys are out in the street, the sheriff and his men are locked up bored. What are you going to do? It's a fun scene that fits in nicely rather than jarring with the other events that play out. And a mention to the Mexican tune that occasionally plays throughout the film which is a great piece of music. The Duke seemed to have an habit of starring in westerns that were ahead of their time and before the spaghetti westerns came along, this Hollywood western already seemed to be showing off a spaghetti vibe with it's scenery and music. In fact it's the very music that inspired Sergio Leone for the type of sound he wanted from Ennio Morricone for A Fistful Of Dollars.
All in all, Rio Bravo is a fun movie and one of the all-time great westerns. A leisurely paced film with endearing characters, witty dialogue and well staged shootouts. They really don't make them like this anymore.
Not just the best sitcom. The greatest TV show of all time
For 11 years this hilarious comedy was nothing short of magic. The performances, the writing and the scenarios were just brilliant. Anytime I fancy a good laugh, this is one of the first things I turn to.
The cast were exceptional, the dialogue consistently clever and hysterical and the characters warm and likable. Well most of them except for Carla,who wasn't warm but I still found her likable because her one-liners were laugh out loud funny, even though they were at other people's expense. Many sitcoms can seem forced, not just in the performances but also in the banter amongst the cast. Not so here. The cast had genuine chemistry and effortlessly bounced off each other. They may not make make them like but thanks to DVD's the classics can be watched over and over anytime.
This show more than deserves it's praise as one of the best sitcoms of all time. For me it's the very best that hasn't been matched since. Cheers to Cheers.
The War Wagon (1967)
The Duke recruits a rag tag team to rob a Wagon full of gold
To many westerns fans, John Wayne is the ultimate symbol of the silver screen cowboy, and in his long career he clocked up many classic westerns and some not so. He was also capable of shifting from serious westerns to much more humorous ones with ease. This is one that falls into the latter category. It's a fun film with a simple but engaging plot.
The movie begins with Wayne been released from prison after been framed by a ruthless miner played by Bruce Cabot, who has taken his land away and Wayne wants revenge by robbing him of his gold which is been transported in an armour plated horse carriage. He forms a mismatched group of desperadoes - Kirk Douglas (a gunslinging safe cracker), Howard Keel (a conniving Indian), an alcoholic explosives expert and a greedy "inside" man.
It's amusing to see Wayne on the wrong side of the law for a change and that's just one of the surprising aspects of the film. Another is the unexpected situations that occur now and again throughout the plot, most of which involves the wary relationship between Wayne and Douglas, which is ambiguous to say the least. You're never sure if they're going to stand by each other, con each other or shoot each other.
The star chemistry, amusing character interactions, wisecracking banter, and fun action (a bar room brawl been a particular hilarious highlight, which has everything but the kitchen sink thrown in) all combine nicely to make it an entertaining, tongue in cheek comedy caper and one of The Duke's overlooked westerns from the latter part of his career.
The Comancheros (1961)
Fantastic western. Great action, spectacle and storytelling.
John Wayne is at the peak of his powers as Texas Ranger Jake Cutter who is assigned to bring in fugitive Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman).From that simple set up,events twist and turn like angry rattlesnake,as the mismatched duo end up defending a ranch from a tribe of Comanches,which results in Regret been pardoned from his crime and becoming a Ranger himself.At this juncture,he joins The Duke to go undercover and infiltrate a group of arms dealers who help a wheelchair bound yet ruthless man run a secret society out in the arid desert.
This is one of my favourite westerns.It delivers everything you could ask for.The action scenes are well staged and the plot is well thought out and developed.The storyline plays out like a spy film that just happens to be set in the wild west and the whole concept of a community been run in the wastelands by a dictator is not only interesting but has been re-used and re-imagined many times over in post-apocalyptic films - most notably Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.It's definitely a western ahead of it's time.The look and design of the community is eye catching as is much of the other cinematography throughout which shows some stunning open landscape shots of insect sized horsemen been absorbed by the scenery.The film has it's dark moments,but is nicely balanced out with a lot of humour,usually with the banter between The Duke and Whitman.Elmer Bernstein's catchy music tops things off nicely.A very entertaining and under appreciated western adventure in The Duke's filmography.