Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2012

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #361: Clerks

One of the movies that re-defined independent cinema in the United-States during the early 1990s, “Clerks” marked the arrival of New Jersey filmmaker Kevin Smith. It also marked a new trend in movies geared towards large audiences: characters that actually speak the way ordinary people talk. The characters in Quentin Tarantino films often riff on pop culture, but that is usually before they end up shooting someone. The characters in Kevin Smith movies also riff on pop culture, but they hold ordinary jobs in the real world. In his 1994 feature film debut, his characters hold the most ordinary jobs in the western world: clerks at a mini-mart.
I was way too young to see this movie when it first came out, but I eventually ended up watching in what is, lets face it, the ideal location to watch a movie like this: my mom’s basement with my older brother. Of course my mom had zero interest in this movie, but my brother and I laughed our ass off and had a great time. I am pretty sure it was the…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #365: The Bourne Identity

One of the few spies to give James Bond a run for his money, Jason Bourne re-shaped Matt Damon’s career and gave the world one of the best action franchises of the last decade. Although more a hyperkinetic assassin than an actual spy, Bourne can slip in and out of a place without getting noticed, disarm a roomful of armed men and walk out of deadly car chases with no more than a slight limp. His adventures have taken him from France to England, from India to Russia and to a (presumably) last stop in New York. The more impressive trait is that he can do all this while suffering from brain damage that has left him with amnesia.
If I recall correctly, I saw the first Bourne adventure, “The Bourne Identity,” while flying somewhere over the Andes. This first chapter, directed by Doug Liman, first came out in 2002 and back then I was living in Santiago, Chile. Every time my parents and I would fly home to Qu├ębec it would take approximately ten hours by airplane, so that is a lot of films see…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #366: Predator

Some movies are made to examine the human condition, to try to find meaning to life, to explore the tribulations of ordinary people through dialogue and subtle cinematography. Then there are movies filled with super soldiers butchering disposable bad guys with automatic weapons, grenades, bows and arrows, machetes and their bare hands. The 80s was prime time for such examples of the 7th art, and Austrian import Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of its biggest champions. In John McTiernan’s “Predator” (1987), he was surrounded by other muscle mountains such as Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Shane Black, who would later pen the first two “Lethal Weapon” movies. This is no “Schindler’s List,” but the unapologetic old school action makes it a classic of the genre.
I watched this testosterone funfest during my last year living in Chile around 2002. Appropriate, since the movie is set in the South American jungle. I actually went to the jungle during a 7th grade school trip, althou…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #368: Airplane!

Say it with me: “Surely you can’t be serious?” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” Now is that comedy gold or what? A lampoon of all the disaster movies set on airplanes during the 1970s, “Airplane!” (1980) was the blueprint for movie parodies for years to come. Unfortunately this would lead to the inferior and unimaginative “Scary Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” and “Epic Movie.” All of those movies were filled with cheap gags and references to movies that came out less than a year ago, whereas “Airplane” is filled with jokes and gags that still hold up 30 years later.
When I rented the movie to watch it for the first time while finishing high school, I knew the late great Leslie Nielsen was in it, and that was enough. Even when he was in a sub-par comedy that great Canadian import always did his best to make the audience laugh. For examples, see “The Naked Gun,” “Spy Hard” and Mel Brook’s “Dracula: Dead and Loving It.” I was watching the movie with my mom, and the moment she recogn…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #369: The Breakfast Club

Every year, major movie studios spend millions of dollars to make blockbuster movies that feature explosions, gunfights, scantily clad women, exotic locations, hundreds of special effects and cheesy one-liners. It’s fun if it is well done, but it’s not always particularly memorable. However, some writers and directors can tell a story that will define a generation by using one or two locations, half a dozen characters and dialogue that people actually use in real life. In 1985 that movie was “The Breakfast Club” by John Hughes, a director whose work is a source of inspiration for many young filmmakers today.
I was born in the mid-80s, so I only discovered his work retroactively. The only movies of Hughes I saw around the time they came out were “Home Alone” and its sequel, but those were movies he produced, not directed. It might explain why they are not as influential. Seeing “The Breakfast Club” on TV, a few years after I was done with high school, it made think of the people I had m…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #370: Rocky

Say what you want about Sylvester Stallone’s career (and you could say a lot) but he did manage to create one of the most inspirational movie characters in sports movies, or in movies in general for that matter: Rocky Balboa. Of course everyone agrees the first movie is the best of the Rocky anthology as it shows Rocky at his weakest, before the fame, the legend, and the fights with Mr. T, Hulk Hogan and Dolph Lundgren. On the other hand, every one of those movies gave exercise enthusiasts some of the best workout montages ever, making “Eye of the Tiger” the song of choice for joggers.
Not that I am a hardcore fan of the Rocky series, but I have seen every movie except the second one. Each movie has a varying degree of popularity, but they are not very difficult to find. I rented the first one from a rental store (a nearly extinct institution) while in college in 2004, only for the movie to play on TV the very next day. If you have access to a movie channel that plays old or classic m…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #371: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

I once read a magazine article in which producer Jerry Bruckheimer said that when it comes to story ideas, movie writers look everywhere. This includes newspapers for real life events, books, investigative articles in magazines, TV show and yes, even video games. However, when he supported a project based on a Disneyland ride, people must have been a little skeptical. Yet low and behold, the first entry in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise surprised everyone by becoming of the biggest hits of the summer of 2003. It resurrected a dead genre, and introduced the world to Johnny Depp’s Academy Award nominated performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, the Keith Richards-like scoundrel of the seas with a taste for rum.
This was one of the many big movies I saw in the summer of 2003 after moving back to Canada, following an eight-year stay in South America. Since all movies are released on different dates in South America, this was the first I got to see all big studio movies released one a…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #372: Army of Darkness

I imagine sometimes it must be great to be Bruce Campbell. Sure, the man has made so many cheesy fantasy movies he ended parodying himself in “My Name is Bruce,” but in the late 80s and early 90s he starred in one of the funniest horror comedy series of all times: The Evil Dead. The first “Evil Dead” was a straight horror film that told the old story of kids being haunted in a cabin in the woods. “Evil Dead II” essentially remade the first movie but with a healthy injection of humor and upgrading Campbell to full-fledged action hero equipped with a chainsaw. “Army of Darkness” closes the loop with a bigger budget as Campbell now finds himself stuck in the Middle Ages with his BOOM STICK!
I actually watched the entire trilogy in reverse, starting with “Army on Darkness” when it was playing on the ScyFy channel (of course), then “Evil Dead II” at the film club I attended at the University of Sherbrooke and then renting the first “Evil Dead” at the video store. As with most trilogies the …

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #373: WALL-E

I have seen plenty of “end-of-the-world” movies featuring various scenarios of destruction, but Pixar’s “WALL-E” (2008) is one of the few that truly scared me into thinking this could happen. The computer animated film features a small robot left to clean up the mess left by humanity centuries after they abandoned Earth on a spaceship that serves the same purpose as Noah’s ark. Only it was not a flood of water that wrecked the planet, but a mountain of trash that humanity mass-produced since the beginning of the Industrial Revolutions. Zombies don’t exist, aliens have yet to invade us, Global Warming may or may not boil us in the near future, but a massive pile of trash burying the planet? That’s happening right now.
Directed by Andrew Stanton, “WALL-E” was part of the great summer movie season of 2008, which featured the return of Indiana Jones, the Academy-Award winning performance of Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” and the rebirth of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Younger audienc…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #374: Hot Fuzz

It seems to me that some of the best, or at least the most enthusiastic, filmmakers are film buffs themselves. Quentin Tarantino could tell you who did the lighting on every Western ever made and Martin Scorsese knows film preservation like Carl Sagan knows about outer space. British writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright know their zombie movies, hence the making of “Shaun of the Dead” in 2004. Since they also methodically watched action movie ever made, they teamed up again in 2007 for “Hot Fuzz,” which referenced everything from “Point Break” to “Bad Boys II.”
I saw this movie with the perfect crowd for a movie made by action movie fans: other movie fans. It was part of a double feature organized by the film club at the University of Sherbrooke, and of course the other film was “Shaun of the Dead.” I am pretty sure somebody cheered when Nick Frost opens a door to reveal a room full of DVDs. Lets face it, if you’re not a movie nerd, it doesn’t seems like a very good idea to spend your h…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - # 375: Four Weddings and a Funeral

A wedding is a situation ripe for comedy, something Richard Curtis obviously knew when he wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” which was directed by Mike Newell in 1994. It began a frequent collaboration between Curtis and the movie’s protagonist, Hugh Grant, who became a star in North America thanks to the movie’s success. Nowadays Grant’s character seems all too familiar as he has played similar bumbling romantics in many other comedies in the decade following the movie, but the first time around you can’t deny he is a perfect fit for Curtis’ writing.
The first time I watched this movie was during family movie night with my mom, my brother and I. Of course my mom picked that title since she was a fan of Grant. I was sold on my love of Rowan Atkinson (BlackAdder) who plays a priest who is clearly not ready for the job. I had never been to a wedding yet, so this was a bit like watching a movie set in Cuba: you’ve never been there, but you might someday. As it turns out, I did go there i…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List: #376 - Zodiac

Hundreds of movies have been made about serial killers and the police officers hunting them down, but David Fincher’s “Zodiac” (2007) stands apart because of its more grounded approach. It chronicles a police investigation that begins in San Francisco in 1969 and ends in 1991. Along the way we follow smart police officers who do their best to narrow down a long of list of suspects, and reporters who try to figure out what to do when the killer sends them letters detailing his crimes. These are all intelligent people trying to outsmart a cerebral killer. Yet there is also a surreal sense of humor as the story unfolds. The manhunt and one of its detectives ended up being the inspiration for “Dirty Harry” starring Clint Eastwood. Imagine sitting in a movie theater watching an actor playing that detective who is watching the movie that was inspired by his work.
When I first watched that scene and the rest of the movie, it was my first time watching a movie at Toronto’s Scotiabank Theatre. …

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List: #377 - Mean Streets

Watching Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” (1973) is like taking a look at one of the smaller pyramids of Egypt before the BIG ones were built. Before Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio were working opposite sides of the law in “The Departed,” before Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci were running Vegas in “Casino,” and before Ray Liotta became a gangster in “Goofellas,” Harvey Keitel was trying to survive the mean streets of New York. All the classic elements are there: strong performances, gangsters who are both reckless and conflicted by their choices, and a kick-ass soundtrack by The Rolling Stones.
This movie was another entry in the film club I joined while studying at the University of Sherbrooke, where we would watch double features every night in the faculty basement. That week’s programming: a Martin Scorsese double feature starting with “Mean Streets” and ending with, I believe, “Goodfellas.” Appropriate, since “Mean Streets” was the beginning of success for Scorsese, while “Goodfel…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List: #379 - Ratatouille

Brad Bird’s “Ratatouille” (2007) shouldn’t work. Rats can’t cook and they certainly do not belong in the kitchen of a Paris restaurant. Yet because this is a film made by Pixar, the studio with a nearly impeccable track record, that rat is not only depicted as a great cook but as also looks kind of cute, or as cute as an animated rat can be. Imagine the challenge if this had been a live-action film. As for the food, the dishes devised by the rat look a lot healthier than the frozen food the movie’s antagonist wants to peddle to his customers.
This was yet another occasion when I wanted to wait until the movie came out on DVD so I could watch the original English version and not the French dubbed version. It would actually have made more sense to see it in French since it is set in Paris, but it is funnier to hear Americans speak English with a phony French accent. Besides, the DVD had plenty of funny extras, such as short film about the misconceptions of rats towards humanity. I stil…