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The Right Stuff (1983)
I expected a lot from this film; a good ensemble cast (albeit with no major stars) telling the story of the early space race, an area of history in which I've always been interested. Perhaps this was my downfall: I know enough about this time to remove any suspense from the plot, while not having been alive at the time, I fail to appreciate the emotional aspect the film tries to tap into.
Taking this into account, however, this film still fails to deliver on every level. It falls into the difficult position of trying to compromise between telling the factual story and creating a good narrative. To this end they sacrifice historical accuracy and any sort of emotional depth; meaning they fail on both counts.
The true failing of this film is that they're telling the wrong story. The real heroes aren't the astronauts, they were just incredibly brave men doing a job a monkey could do. In fact, did do. The real heroes are the men who created the technology and built the machines that got them up there, which was a truly magnificent feat, cruelly forgotten in this telling.
Of course, I have nothing against an unashamed hero film, but only for the sake of pure entertainment. I n this case we don't even get to figure out who the real hero is, all seven of the Mercury astronauts, as well as Chuck Yeagger, are pushed forward, yet three of them have barely a line of dialogue, and their particular achievements are overlooked. The characters just aren't defined clearly enough and they lack depth or emotional resonance.
If you want to see how this film would have been better made, watch Apollo 13.
Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987)
The greatest stand-up show on Earth
This is the most well put together and sublimely funny stand-up act I've ever seen. Raw seals all the cracks that appear in Murphy's first concert movie, Delirious, with the performance and material being more mature and competent in front of the audience.
Murphy combines spot-on celebrity impressions with observational humour. For me, this is certainly not the laughter of recognition; my upbringing could not have been more different to Eddie's. I can only imagine the comedic effect on anyone who grew up in the poor areas of sixties America.
Given Murphy's race, and the predominantly black audience, it is a relief that the show is not dominated by the racial humour that tends to let down other stand-ups, who insist on pointing out the differences between white and black guys. When Murphy does tackle this subject, he dishes it out to every race and then moves on to the shared experiences of childhood.
Near the end, Murphy begins an impression of his father which turns into a drawn-out sketch, reprising the similar one in Delirious. This makes the most of Murphy's acting skills with the most suitable material; a bit like The Klumps but without the child-friendly content.
Nowhere else are Eddie Murphy's talents so well show-cased, but if you like this, see also; Delirious, The Golden Child, Coming to America, and Trading Places.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The greatest teen movie of all time
The ultimate in teen drama and also a well-rounded comedy, The Breakfast Club encompasses everything that is difficult about being a teenager and expresses it in such a way as to be accessible to just about anyone.
Not being American, I don't fully identify with the cultural and social markers being employed, but the feel of the film is universal. John Hughes creates an atmosphere by bringing together five students from different cliques within high school and forcing them to interact with each other. At first this treads familiar paths, albeit an excellent standard; however, the conclusion gives an emotional, climactic pay-off which puts it ahead of the rest.
Judd Nelson may look a little too old but shines as the main antagonist, striking a perfect balance between rebellion and childish back chat. The other characters too, are well played, and undiluted by a noticeable-by-its-absence supporting cast.
If you are, or ever were, a teenager/in school, then you'll enjoy this film.
Eight Days a Week (1997)
Teen angst is funny
A film that I'd never heard of and chanced upon by accident, Eight Days a Week deserves to be a mainstay of teen cinema in the same way that John Hughes' eighties work is.
Joshua Schaeffer has just the right balance of geek and cool individualism to pull off a character that could very easily fall into stalker territory and R.D. Robb is excellent as his sex-obsessed sidekick; keeping what could very easily become a caricature grounded in reality. The supporting cast of oddballs never overshadow the main story, but equally don't feel like padding as we learn more about their slightly kooky lives.
It's a shame that films like this go unnoticed in a world where much more crass attempts at summing up teenage life (complete with thirty year old actors) can become box office hits.
The Great White Hype (1996)
Vastly underrated, hilarious film
I'd never heard of this film when I saw it but I was tempted by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson. I was not disappointed.
I am not a fan of boxing and know nothing about the sport but this film is more about corruption in sport and grubby business dealings, and is simply set in the world of boxing. That said, the idea could not be successfully transposed to another arena thanks to the flamboyant and corrupt nature of the boxing world.
Samuel L. Jackson is deliciously over the top and excellent support from comedy stalwarts like Jeff Goldblum, Jon Lovitz, Damon Wayans, John Rhys Davies, and the increasingly famous Jamie Foxx make this a riotous comedy. This is one of the most quotable films I've ever come across and if you're a fan of comedy you won't regret watching this, even if you don't like it as much as I do.
The High Life (1994)
Top nineties sitcom
The High Life is one of the most singular sitcoms produced in the nineties thanks to its verbal dexterity and the brilliant partnership between Forbes Masson and Alan Cumming. In fairness, the six episodes was probably the limit for what is essentially a two dimensional plot concept (the attempts to leave the confines of an aeroplane coming with mixed success), but it survives on the wit and clever dialogue created by its two stars.
For most people this will have been their first experience of the now (relatively) famous Alan Cumming but it is clear even here that he is a master at the character comedy roles that have been the backbone of his career in Hollywood. The less well known Forbes Masson (the only other time I've ever seen him is playing Stan Laurel in the "Waxworld" episode of Red Dwarf) also plays well in this tailor-made role in an elegantly self-deprecatory fashion. Check out the pilot episode (available on the DVD) and you'll find his character to be much less pathetic and more masculine; it's just not as funny.
Of course, I can hardly comment on The High Life without mentioning the theme song. Accompanied by a dance routine that any golden age musical would be proud of, the song itself is possibly the most fitting theme song I've ever heard, summing up the spirit and character of the show in a neat thirty seconds.
Well worth an investment in the DVD as I doubt this will ever be repeated on television.