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Empire List: #418 - V for Vendetta

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” I don’t know who came up with that quote, but whoever it was, they most likely did not have the hero of “V for Vendetta” in mind. Although when I use the word “hero” I do so only because the villains are much worse than him. To a fictional fascist government “V” is a terrorist who destroys government buildings and kills government officials. To the people, he is a freedom fighter who opens their eyes to the lies they have been sold. One thing is certain: he believes violence is part of the solution. I hope that is a prospect a lot of people find divisive.
I first saw this hundredth graphic novel adaption at a movie theatre in Quebec City in 2006, but I had a much more interesting second viewing in 2010. One of my courses at the University of Sherbrooke was Cultural Studies, and wouldn’t you know it, the graphic novel “V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore was required reading. Once we were done with that exhausting homework assignment (sa…

Empire List #420: Jerry Maguire

When you have a movie where the title is the name of the main character, you can assume a few things off-hand. First, said character is about to encounter a heap of trouble. Second, he will most likely find love, or at least re-deem a relationship. Third, by the end of the movie he will have made some major changes in his life. “Jerry Maguire” follows all of these rules by throwing the life of its protagonist upside down and have try to turn everything right side up. He is like the Coyote in Looney Tunes: if he stops and looks down, he just might realize he is walking on thin air and will fall into a canyon. Sometimes it’s better to keep looking up.
 The funny thing is, the first time I watched this movie I didn’t know I was about to fall down a canyon myself. It was in January of 2003, back when I was still living in Chile. In May my parents and I were going to move back to my native Canada, but first, a father-son trip. My father thought it would a great idea for him to take me to Ar…

Empire list #421: Lethal Weapon

Take a look at any bubby cop movie that has come out in the past twenty years and odds are it has been influenced by Richard Donner's “Lethal Weapon” franchise. It has all of the necessary elements for that genre: two cops, one white, one black, one is by the book, one breaks all the rules, one is a family man, one is single, one is old, one is young and they both have a weapon of choice. In real life cops investigate, gather evidence, and then arrest all the bad guys at once. Buddy cops investigate, get shot at, find out where the bad guys are hiding and then kill everybody in a massive shoot out while dishing out quips.
There are a total of four titles in this franchise and in just about all of them Danny Glover’s character says: “I am getting too old for this shit.” By the fourth one even Mel Gibson was getting too old and everyone knew it. I have seen all of them, but not in chronological order. I saw the second and third on TV and the fourth one on the big screen. Finally, on…

Empire List #423: Kill Bill Vol. 2

Quentin Tarantino must be a major annoyance to a lot of film teachers. They say to become good at anything you must first learn from the experts. Tarantino learned a lot before becoming a filmmaker, but from watching the stuff other people had done. It’s the dream of every guy who has ever worked at a video club: I have watched thousands of movies, what if I made one myself? Of course now that video clubs are going out of business we’re not likely to see someone emerge with a similar back story, but if anything he has proved you can watch and learn. With “Kill Bill Vol. 2” Tarantino shows what he learned by watching Westerns and Kung Fu movies, resulting in one of the best revenge movies of the last ten years.
By the time Volume 2 came out in early 2004, I was still reeling from having seen Volume one the year before. I must have had a weird facial expression after I left the theatre because my brother had looked at me and said: “You’re not going to go see the sequel aren’t you?” To wh…

Empire List #327: The Nightmare Before Christmas

You know you have a cult hit on your hands when a movie inspires fashion. Walk into a rock or a Goth clothing store and odds are you will find hats or t-shirts with motifs from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Leave it to that Vincent Price obsessed director to come up with a movie where the monstrous citizens of Halloween Town take over Christmas. Each of his creations are animated not by computer but via stop-motion, the process in which objects are moved inch by inch and then recorded to give the illusion that inanimate objects are moving by themselves. It also works as a musical, with music and lyrics provided by long-time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman.
Released in October of 1993 as “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,” despite being directed by Henry Selick, the film worried Disney executives because of it might be too scary for young children. I guess my parents thought the same thing since I had to discover that nightmare by myself. It wasn’t too diffi…

Empire List # 430: Big Trouble in Little China

Among the great partnerships between actors and directors you can count Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, John Wayne and John Ford, and my personal favourite, Kurt Russell and John Carpenter. Together they made an Elvis Pressley biography, a horror movie (“The Thing”), and a post-apocalyptic action movie (“Escape from New York”). With “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986) they tried a mash-up of three genres: comedy, martial arts, and action. The result is a blend of Chinese legends, monsters, kung fu fighting, and Kurt Russell trading quips with Kim Cattrall in the San Francisco underworld. Man, movies were crazy in the 80s.
I saw this particular genre mix back in 2009 while spending the summer in Vancouver as a summer student. Wonderful beaches, but since I only had three courses and didn’t know a lot of people in town I had a lot of free evenings. Always count on iTunes to have a large variety of titles at low prices if you want some home entertainment. Rather appropriate, since th…

Empire List #289: John Carpenter's The Thing

For my personal taste, most horror movies today have a lot of gore, but little suspense. In 1982, horror master John Carpenter made “The Thing,” a frightening story that had a lot of gore, very suspenseful scenes, a scary setting and memorable characters.

This being October and the weekend when the prequel to Carpenter’s version is released, it seems like an ideal time to revisit the 1982 version. The first time I saw this movie was in a basement, by myself, during one of those horror marathons they have on the Space channel during Halloween. The only thing missing was a rainstorm outside and scratching sound on my bedroom windows.  It’s one of those movies that are scary to watch by yourself, but of you watch with other people it’s kind of funny. When I watched it as part of a double bill at the film club at my university (with David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”) we would laugh at some of the film’s more shocking moments, and also at the somewhat dated special effects. My ideal scenario: se…

Empire # 432: X-Men 2

Among the dozens of comic-book movies that have come out in the past twelve years, “X2: X-Men United” is one of the best of the bunch. It has awesome special effects, an army of original characters, a menacing villain, and a strong plot. Like all of the movies in this particular franchise, it touches on themes such as racism, civil rights, and fear of the unknown. Only instead of people of different skin colour, it is people with mutant abilities who are being persecuted by fearful government agencies. Cheesy, but it makes great action scenes.
Ideally I should have seen a big comic-book movie like this with friends my age at some major multiplex in Canada. Instead when it came out in 2003 I was still living in Santiago, Chile, and on that particular occasion my dad wanted to spend some more time with me since he was home from work. I am the movie geek, so I get to pick the movie. Unfortunately, during the previews he asks me if this is a spy movie, meaning he had no idea what X-Men was…

Empire List #433: Good Will Hunting

Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting” is a very effective dramatic film that could appear in one of those “Before they were Famous” specials. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who were both supporting actors at the time, wrote the screenplay. Their words and individual performances earned them both Oscar nominations in 1997 before they went on to become major movie stars. Casey Affleck, brother of Ben, has a supporting role, and he also would eventually move on to bigger things.
I remember seeing the Oscars in 1997 and knowing this movie was a big deal, but I never got time to see it. I was probably too busy adjusting to living Chile, having recently moved from Newfoundland. About ten years later I finally rented it and watched it in my off-campus room near the University of Sherbrooke. I was studying English, not math, so I couldn’t really indentify with a main character who is a closeted math genius. Yet on some level, I think there is something for everyone in this story.
Matt Damon plays th…

Empire List #434: The Cat Concerto

I am glad there is a cartoon on this list. Granted it’s a bit of a stretch to consider a 7-minute Tom and Jerry cartoon a movie, but it is the best kind of cartoon. “The Cat Concerto,” directed by cartoon masters William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, is simple, entertaining and has inventive animation.
This short may have come out in 1947, but like most of the great cartoons, I got to watch it in the mid-90s. This was before Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Yogi Bear, and The Flintstones all ended up on Teletoon Retro and Seth MacFarlane swooped in with Family Guy. For me these cartoons weren’t just a form of entertainment, they were teaching tools. Back then I was living in Chile so the cartoons were always in Spanish. They didn’t teach me grammar, but I did learn that “What’s up doc?” in Spanish is “Que hay de nuevo Viejo?”
Not that I could ever get any language lessons from Tom and Jerry. With these two it’s always the same basic premise. Tom the cat is doing something around the …

TIFF: One Year Later

A year ago I had the chance to attend the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time. I had only heard about it over the years through news articles, blogs and TV coverage. Like everything on TV, it doesn’t seem real until you get to see it in person. Sure enough, I got to see “Monsters” directed by newcomer Gareth Edwards and even got to ask him a question after the movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should do so as soon as you can.
I also got to see “John Carpenter’s The Ward” his first movie in nine years. A horror movie, of course. Not his best one, but still pretty solid work from one of the masters of horror.
My friend Shannon Scott, who used to work for the festival, was nice enough to explain to me where I could buy tickets and what places to visit. I would have bought tickets for every day of the week, but I was living off student loans and was starting a semester at Sheridan College, in Oakville. Still, thanks for the information Shannon.
At the time I was study…

Empire List #435: American Psycho

Five years before he donned a cape and played Batman, Christian Bale played a truly monstrous man in “American Psycho.” His Patrick Bateman is a vane, arrogant, misogynist Wall Street trader who loves to stare at himself while having sex with two prostitutes in his rich Manhattan penthouse. He values money above all else, dresses well, works out obsessively and uses more skin care products than some Hollywood actresses. Oh, and he occasionally kills people with axes, knives and chainsaws. As if working on Wall Street wasn’t bad enough.
The violence and depravity in this movie is legendary. Based on a 1991 novel by Brett Easton Ellis, the adaptation attracted the likes of David Cronenberg and Oliver Stone as directors and Leonardo DiCaprio as Bateman. Fortunately, the task of filming and performing the scenes of sex and violence fell upon the shoulders of Marie Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol”) and Christian Bale. The result was a cult movie whose violent scenes were both brutal and somewh…

Empire List #436: Beauty and the Beast

Chances one of the first movies your parents showed you was a Disney movie. Disney is the safe choice: its movies always have cute and cuddly characters, moral lessons you can carry with you for the rest of your life, scenes depicting good triumphing over evil, and often, singing characters. Occasionally the Mouse House breaks new grounds in animation and gets a shot at an Academy Award for best film. “Beauty and the Beast” the 1991 version by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, is one such film.

I have to admit, the very first time I saw this movie parts of it scared me. In my defence I must have been around six years old and what the titular Beast got mad, I wouldn’t have liked to be sitting in his lazy-boy. It wasn’t even my choice. It was movie time in the first grade so of course the teacher went with the Disney catalogue and closed the curtains as we sat on the carpet. I am not sure if I even understood everything the first time since back then I was living in Corner Brook, Newfoundla…

Empire List #437: Spider-Man

Growing up I used to watch two superheroes on T.V: Batman and Superman. To me Spider-Man was just this old cartoon from the 60’s with a cheesy theme song. So when I saw the first teaser trailer for Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” that was to come out in 2002 (infamously showing a helicopter caught in a web between the twin towers) I didn’t think much of it. “Spider-Man? Who cares?” Shows what I know.

Months after 9/11 I had moved from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile and was starting over yet again in a new high school. This was to be my last year in South America before going back to Canada. “Spider-Man” had been released in North America months before and was being hailed as one of the summer’s biggest hits so it was probably worth the admission price after all. Back then I used to hang out with just a few expatriates from Quebec so me and another Quebecer went to see it with our parents. Call it one last evening out before leaving it all behind.

This being a superhero movie, we go through t…

Empire List #438: The Lost Boys

Before Joel Schumacher went ahead and temporarily ruined the Batman franchise for all of use, he actually directed a terrific horror movie. The decade was the 80s, the cast included Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, and the monsters were vampires. Despite featuring one of the most overexposed movie monsters of our time, “The Lost Boys” stands out in the genre for its combination of horror, comedy, and great effects.

This being a cult film from the 80s, I first heard about it from movie websites and magazine articles. Mostly the articles complained about how the sequels that came out decades later were simply not as good as the original. Ever noticed that whenever a studio waits twenty years to make a sequel, it’s never as good as the original? Looking at you “Indiana Jones 4.” I got to see the original in this franchise when it was playing on TV on Halloween. I don’t know about the sequels, but this movie does seem pretty hard to top.

The film begins when Lucy Emerson (Diane Wiest) a just…

Empire List #439: Grosse Pointe Blank

One of the most immoral things you can do in life is kill someone. If you kill people for money than you are trying to win the award for immoral person of the year. However, what if you were a killer who can rationalize his actions and you see murder for hire as a job no different than selling furniture? Now imagine you have been invited to your high school reunion. That is the premise for George Armitage’s “Grosse Point Blank” (1997) starring John Cusack as the hitman. A wise casting choice since Cusack gained prominence playing romantic leads in 80s teen comedies. What if that same character came back to this John Hughes universe but his job was to kill people?

This is one of those movies that I have watched progressively over the years. I missed it at the movie theatres, but I saw bits and pieces of it while living in Chile. Eventually I decided to watch the whole thing and found it in a Montreal HMV store as one of those double features the store uses to get rid of its old movie…

Empire List #474: Enter the Dragon

Before Tony Jaa, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan there was Bruce Lee. The man has been dead since the 1970s yet say his name and images of martial art fights spring to mind. He died way too early leaving behind only a handful of films, a few of them unfinished. Fortunately, Robert Clouse’s “Enter the Dragon” was completed before his death on July 20, 1973. As far as martial arts films go, it is one of the best and features the master in top shape.
Whenever I write for this blog I try to describe the impression I had when I watched the film for the first time. Sometimes it’s a memorable moment, such as watching a game-changing movie on the big screen. This however, is a rather ordinary moment since I watched “Enter the Dragon” yesterday evening on TV in my mom’s apartment in Quebec City. Life is ordinary sometimes.
Yet when it comes to Bruce Lee movies I still have a personal movie anecdote. About two years ago my brother bought a DVD box set of Bruce Lee’s films for Asian studio Golden Harvest…