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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #467: The Deer Hunter

Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978) is a prime example of how Christopher Walken is much more than a punch line. People often do impressions of him for his admittedly odd speech pattern, which sadly overshadows his great acting skills. In Cimino’s war film, the last he would direct before the financial disaster Heaven’s Gate, Walken plays a blue-collar worker in 1967 America who starts off as a happy young man only to be irrevocably transformed by the horrors of the Vietnam War. It is an amazing performance in a movie filled with some of the best actors of their generation also working at the top of their game.
I had wanted to see this movie for a long time since it appears on many Best Movies of All Times list and it has a rather infamous Russian roulette sequence that is so iconic it became the movie’s poster. However this is a three-hour movie so you really need to clear your schedule if you are planning on viewing it all in one sitting. Fortunately it became available on Netfli…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #378: The Goonies

As I write this it is the weekend when the second season of 80s inspired show Stranger Things has dropped, so it is the perfect time to take a look at one of the many movies that inspired it, The Goonies (1985). Directed by Richard Donner, written by Chris Columbus and based on a story by Steven Spielberg, this is a movie made by some of the best filmmakers of that time. Although it was not a box office smash it went on to become a cult hit and its influences can be clearly seen on Stranger Things and on plenty of other stories featuring a group of young friends who go on extraordinary adventures.
It took me a while to finally see the full movie since it came out a year before I was born. However since it is a cult film I noticed its impact on pop culture over the years, whether it was hearing someone use the rallying cry “Goonies never say die!” or its influence on other movies like J.J Abrams’ Super 8. Watching it the first time I really enjoyed seeing familiar faces acting in one of…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #72: 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men (1957) is another example of how you can make one hell of a movie with a small cast, an enclosed space and a director who knows how to work his cameras. Jury duty is something most people try to avoid, but as directed by Sydney Lumet it becomes a fascinating morality tale as twelve strangers debate the life of a young man accused of murder. Almost entirely shot within one room and with a brisk 96-minute running time it is a timeless classic.
My first viewing was on a DVD rental, so obviously this was a couple of years before Netflix. The DVD extras are definitely worth it for a retrospective on the cast of twelve actors, the film’s legacy, and the opinion of legal scholars. Like all movies it has its flaws, and apparently the most glaring was the judge’s blasé attitude given the fact this is a murder trial. That flaw aside, this is definitely a movie worth seeing with someone else because unlike many movies that come out today it makes you think while you are it and a long…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #412: Heathers

Heathers is a movie that deals with school shootings, bullying, homophobia and teen suicides. Sadly it was not made this year, but in 1988 and remains relevant today. Fortunately it is also a dark comedy with a hints of hope buried amongst the many dead bodies. Also noteworthy, it was a critical hit for stars Christian Slater and Winona Ryder before their careers went off the rails but then got back on track thanks to lead roles in hit TV shows. Clearly some things change and some things stay the same.
Seeing it the first time I was struck by the tone balanced by director Michael Lehmann and writer Daniel Waters, and thought there is no way this could be made today. A lot of bad things have happened in schools in North America between 1988 and today, chief among them mass shootings. Bullying is ever present thanks to social media, and suicide is such a hot-button issue in schools that some organizations were afraid the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why might encourage teens to take their own…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #73: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) has a clever idea for a plot that is executed by a rather oddball crew of artists. In the director’s chair you have Michel Gondry, a French filmmaker whose creativity is always recognisable no matter the project. On writing duties you have Charlie Kaufman, known for writing screenplays that seem to take on a life of their own. Then in front of the camera you have Jim Carrey in serious mode, which doesn’t always work, but the results are always interesting.
When the movie came out I was still used to the idea of Jim Carrey as a manic comedian since I grew up watching him in movies like Ace Ventura and The Mask. When he is in a drama you almost always expect him to eventually burst out and talk out of his butt. That might be why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not one of his biggest box-office successes, but even 13 years ago I could see this is a very smart movie dealing with deep ideas. Its characters are all convinced that in order…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #452: Unbreakable

Unbreakable (2000) is a movie that is becoming more and more relevant as time goes by. For one thing it is one of the last good movies M. Night Shyamalan made before his career took a pretty steep nose-dive. For another it deals with the idea of super heroes and villains in a world where none of those exist and yet and approaches these concepts while steeped in realism. Nowadays there are at least five super hero movies that come out every year, but Unbreakable still feels fresh and original despite the fact two of its actors are now part of the Marvel and DC movie universe.
Early on in his career Shyamalan became known for the twist endings in his movies, and Unbreakable is no exception. Unfortunately it took me 15 years to finally see the whole thing on Netflix and by then the ending had been spoiled just like with The Sixth Sense. Then the same thing happened again this year when Shyamalan released Split in which SPOILER ALERT, Bruce Willis has a cameo at the end. When the next sequ…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #76: Manhattan

Woody Allen: a filmmaker many of us have mixed feelings about. I feel that’s how most of my reviews about his films are going to start. He has written and directed very funny movies, he certainly knows how to shoot in New York City, and apparently he’s a pretty good jazz player. He is also a guy who married the adopted daughter of his ex-wife, has been accused of sexual molestation, and in his movies he often plays a character who dates women who are much younger than he is. All of the good and the bad traits of Allen are on display in Manhattan (1979), one of his most acclaimed movies.
I liked many things about this movie when I first saw it. I enjoyed the use of black and white cinematography, the opening montage in which Allen lauds his home turf of NYC, the use of jazz music, and the cast of characters. However I was also uncomfortable with the fact that Isaac Mortimer Davis, the 40-year-old TV writer played by Allen, is in a relationship with Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway) a 17-year-ol…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #455: Top Gun

Top Gun (1986) is pure 1980s American gun-ho patriotism as well as an unofficial recruitment ad for that country’s air force. It features Tom Cruise in the nascent stages of his career as the world’s biggest movie star, U.S pilots flipping off those pesky Russians in the air, and the chart-topping single by Kenny Loggins, Danger Zone. Many aspects of this movie are now dated, but on first viewing it is hard not to be pulled in by the adrenaline-pumping ride.
For many people this movie was a defining moment in pop culture, leading viewers to either adopt the nickname “Goose” or “Maverick,” or go a step further and actually join the air force. That was not the case for me since I was born the same year Top Gun came out, and I don’t think I was ever its specific target audience anyway. When I think of Anthony Edwards I don’t think of him flying fighter jets, I think of him operating on patients as Doctor Greene on E.R. However over the years I kept seeing the cultural influence of Top Gun

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #78: Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is that special kind of horror film that can get under your skin while spilling very little blood. It has no masked killer that jumps out of a corner, no monster chasing characters down dark corridors, and no armies of zombies lumbering the streets. Yet it is profoundly unsettling, not only because it deals with a satanic cult, but because the story’s protagonist and her unborn child are unwilling participants in that cult’s scheme.
Watching the film on Halloween two years ago it occurred to me this story is probably twice as scary for women. Having children is already a nerve-wracking prospect, but being tricked into having the devil’s spawn against your will: that is nightmarish on a whole other level. However director Roman Polanski takes his time in revealing the full extent of this nightmare, at times even suggesting all of the protagonist’s fears might just be paranoia. It takes a while for the full extent of the horror to be revealed, but it is worth the …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #81: Batman Begins

It took the storytelling skills of British director Christopher Nolan to finally get Batman right. The 1960s TV show, starring the late great Adam West, had a lot of action, but was overly campy. The Tim Burton films felt very much like comic books come to life, but the villains stole the spotlight. Then there was Joel Schumacher who nearly killed the franchise by turning it into a live-action cartoon and by putting nipples on the suit. However with Batman Begins (2005) the spotlight was firmly placed on the character of Bruce Wayne as he becomes a vigilante, the villains were much less campy, and the action sequences seemed to be set in our world.
Like many people my expectations for Batman Begins were pretty low for what would be chronologically the fifth theatrical Batman movie. I had watched Batman Forever many times on VHS, but Batman & Robin, the last Schumacher entry, had left a very bad taste in my mouth. Going into theatres in Quebec City in the summer of 2005 all I knew w…