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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #266: Ghost World

Filmmaker Terry Swigoff has so far only five movies, which at first glance may seem difficult to pin down. He gave the world Crumb, the fascinating documentary about underground cartoonist Robert Crumb and also Bad Santa, the 2003 hillarious comedy about a drunken mall Santa played by Billy Bob Thornton. He also directed Ghost World (2001), a much tamer comedy about two teenage outsiders. Definitely not as gut-busting funny as Bad Santa, but definitely worth seeing if only for seeing Steve Buscemi as a reclusive records collector.
This one I first saw while doing a 2009 summer session at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Having some time to kill one evening, I was browsing iTunes and thought I would check another cult movie off my to-watch list. Bad Santa is one of my favourite Christmas movies and Steve Buscemi is one of my favourite actors so I thought this has to be good. The tone of the movie and the characters were unexpectedly cynical and Buscemi is more introverte…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #273: The Maltese Falcon

People who don’t like black and white movies don’t know what they are missing. Sure, most of the times it means the movies are very old, the dialogue and attitudes are dated, and there is a lot less action compared to today’s hyper-frenetic blockbusters, but many of those films are timeless classics. Case in point: The Maltese Falcon (1941) the first major film noir stars screen icon Humphrey Bogart as private investigator Sam Spade who is trying to stay ahead of a bunch of shady characters who want to get their hands on a mythical jewel-encrusted bird. Hallmarks of the genre include low-key lighting, a complicated plot, and of course a femme fatale.
I first saw The Maltese Falcon on a boring Sunday morning while in college in Quebec City. It was playing on the CBC, probably because they thought many old people would be watching at that time of the day, but since I like movies new or old I had no problem with diving back to the 1940s. Also I was curious to see it since this is such a …

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #274: Sin City

If I have one problem with comic book movies in this day and age it’s that they are all so audience-friendly. When Wolverine claws his way through 20 armed gunmen at most he gets one bloody scratch on his face and is allowed to say the word “fuck” only once in the whole movie, otherwise Hollywood loses that precious PG-13 rating. Not so with Robert Rodriguez’ adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005) in which, just like in the graphic novels, the characters bleed red, female characters strip butt naked, and male characters curse like they don’t give a fuck. The film is also a gorgeous piece of art, as it is shot in exquisite black and white, except for specific objects and persons that require colour, such a character called The Yellow Bastard.
As it is definitely a movie geared towards the 18-35 male audiences, I first saw Sin City in early 2005 with my brother in Quebec City. Apart from a supporting role in Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) this my first time seeing Mickey Rourke …

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #276: Layer Cake

I’ve always had mixed feelings about drugs. On the one hand, I don’t really care about what people do with their body as long as it doesn’t endanger anybody else. On the other hand, on the very rare occasions someone has offered drugs I never went the extra mile and actually tried it. If the main character from Matthew Vaughn’s crime thriller Layer Cake (2004) had his way, I could one day make that decision by walking into a pharmacy and legally buying whatever I want. Until that day, we will still get brilliant films such as this one about criminals in the drug business trying to make a living as though it was just another day at the office. Welcome to the layer cake son.
This was an interesting film to watch at the time it came out given its director and star. Matthew Vaughn was known as the executive producer of the Guy Ritchie films Snatch and Lock, Stock and Tow Smoking Barrels so expectations were for another gangster comedy featuring characters with exocentric names like Big Chr…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #278: Carlito's Way

Throughout his career Al Pacino has played many criminals, but as he aged so did the gangsters. In 1983 he played the demented Tony Montana in Brian de Palma’s Scarface, setting the bar for ambitious drug lords the world over. Ten years later Pacino and De Palma reunited for Carlito’s Way, which asked the question: what if Montana got caught, sent to prison, released back into society, and then tried to be a good boy? Well as Pacino said in The Godfather Part III:“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
The movie came out in 1993 when I was seven years old so of course this is not a movie I saw on the big screen. Too bad, because it is filled with De Palma’s visual flair, specifically in a climactic shootout at a train station. Fortunately I eventually caught up with it about 15 years later when it was playing on the Movie Network, which is always a great help if you want to catch up on classics during a long weekend. Chronologically it worked out great since I had alread…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #279: National Lampoon's Animal House

Nowadays the movie branch of the National Lampoon magazine is mostly associated with straight-to-DVD comedies that the general public will barely notice. However between the late 1970s and 1980s they were responsible for two classic Chevy Chase films and for National Lampoon’s Animal House, the king of gross-out comedies. Starring a cast of then unknown actors and directed by John Landis, it tells, not so much the story, but the antics of the craziest fraternity to ever be allowed on a college campus. The point of this film is to deliver laughter on a minute-by-minute basis and boy does it deliver.
Is there any better place to watch a movie like this than on a university campus? I watched it as part of a double feature organized by the film club at the University Sherbrooke and I believe the other half of that double feature was The Kentucky Fried Movie. Suffice it to say we laughed our asses off that Friday night. I also realized how tame my university experience was. How come we didn…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #484: The Fountain

George Carlin once said the answer to the age-old question “why are we here” just might be: “Plastic! Assholes!” That is way too simple of an answer for most people, so for thousands of years people have been debating about the meaning of life, what happens after death, and why the bloody hell do we have to die in the first place. The Fountain (2006) by Darren Aronofsky is a convoluted exploration of some of those questions as it follows a version of the same character in three different eras. In each he seeks eternal life, not for him but for the love of his life. It helps she is played by Rachel Weisz.
Before the movie was released it gained notoriety for its troubled production, as it had to shut down because of production costs. If I recall well, they were even auctioning off props of the movie at one point. But then Aronofsky tinkered the script, found ways to make the effects for cheap, and shot the whole thing in Montreal to save money. Upon its release it did not exactly set t…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #280: Mad Max 2

Mad Max 2 (1981) a.k.a The Road Warrior, is one of the reasons why Mel Gibson was once of the biggest movies stars in the world. Who is Mad Max? He is the lone hero in a post-apocalyptic world, he is the last warrior in a war-torn Australia, and the deadliest man behind the wheel of a car. George Miller’s film is a true product of the 80s. It’s all practical effects and stuntmen as cars pummel and tear each other to pieces in a battle to get the last remnant of oil after a devastating war. Everyone is dressed like they have raided a leather clothing store and they stopped at a sporting goods store for armour. There was never a lot of optimism about the future back then in the 80s, but on the plus side it made for some pretty kick-ass movies.
I have seen the entire Mad Max franchise completely out of order. The third one I saw when it was playing on TV in Spanish back in the 90s when I was living in Peru (whose roads and drivers sadly reminded me of the movie sometimes). I got to the se…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #281: Interview with the Vampire

When it comes to movie monsters, vampires go in and out of fashion with mixed results: sometimes you get a great retelling of Dracula, sometimes you get Twilight. In between, you get the work of Anne Rice, whose Vampire Chronicles has not had the same success on the big screen as Stephanie Myers’ books, but her first entry is one of the best exploration of what it must be like to be a vampire. Interview with the Vampire (1994) features the life and times of two vampires, one a complete sociopath who sees humans as cattle, and the other a man with guilt over the people he has destroyed. In a brilliant casting stroke, they are played by two of the biggest movie stars in the world.
If you are behind on your horror movie watching, October is a great month because all the movie channels play the old classics, or just the successful ones. So during a holiday from the university while staying in Quebec City, I saw Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Interview with the Vampire on MPix and was glad to …

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #282: The Godfather Part III

When it comes to trilogies, usually the first one is good, the second raises the bar, and the third falls short of the second one. There are of course exceptions (The Bourne trilogy, the Indiana Jones series), but that’s usually the way it goes. When The Godfather Part III came out in 1990, the universal consensus was that the first two were masterpieces and the third one was nowhere near as good. There are indeed problems in Michael Corleone’s swan song. The story is a bit hard to follow, Robert Duvall is no longer there as family lawyer Tom Hagan, and Sofia Coppola was probably not experienced enough as an actress to play Michael’s daughter. That being said, it does have its moments of greatness, including the uttering of the line “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
I am going to end up repeating this part two other times as I move up Empire’s list, but the first time I saw The Godfather trilogy was when my parents, my brother and I rented it from ye old video stor…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #284: Scarface

In the gangster genre, it is an unwritten rule that the bad guy must fall by the end. That was certainly true in the Howard Hawks film Scarface from 1932 in which gangster Tony Montana pleads for his life before making a run for it and getting mowed down by the police. In Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake however, there is no begging for mercy and Tony does most of the mowing down, with the classic line “Say hello to my little friend!” In terms of general plotting, the two films are very similar, but you could say the remake is the same story “on steroid,” or more accurately “on cocaine” as Montana spends most of the third act abusing his product as he nears his downfall.
There are movies you have seen before actually seeing them and that was certainly the case with Scarface. Like Pulp Fiction and Fight Club, it has had a major impact on pop culture, and even crime culture. Would-be rappers want to emulate Tony Montana’s rags-to-riches tale, while would-be gangsters want to imitate his bus…

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #288: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Wouldn’t it be cool if cartoons co-existed with human beings? Let me rephrase that: how awesome would it be if Daffy Duck and Donald Duck were to have a duel of pianos at a members-only club in 1940s Hollywood? Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), based on the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf, successfully imagines such a world and most importantly manages to convince the audience cartoons are actually interacting with human beings. Its director, Robert Zemeckis, has always been a master at mixing groundbreaking special effects with an engaging story, so if anyone was going to get this story right, it had to be him. Pulling the strings at the top of the production chain was none other than Steven Spielberg, who although better known for his directorial work, has produced some of the most memorable movies of the 80s, including this one.
But just how do you classify Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I first saw a French-dubbed version of the film on VHS in the early 90s while living in …