Shawshank Redemption

There was no real reason as to why I hadn’t watched Shawshank Redemption until a few days ago. I hadn’t been avoiding it on purpose, or constantly forgetting to watch it, and it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of free time. I’ve been meaning to watch it for about 4 or 5 years, since my dad told me how brilliant it was, but I could never get hold of a DVD due to the age barrier, and once I turned 18 I forgot how much I needed to watch it. But, since I started writing these reviews, I can be chatting to someone about films, and as soon as I told them I hadn’t seen Shawshank, all previous views that I held were invalid, and rightly so.

The issue that then arises is hype. Have I been told too many times, by too many people, about how brilliant the movie is? Can there be any chance that it measures up to the great reviews it has received from apparently the entire world? Was I going to be left wanting at the end?

No. No I wasn’t.

A tense plot to rival any thriller. Memorable dialogue that can be (and has been) quoted over and over. And a heart-warming ending to top any romance film. Not the best film I’ve ever seen, or the best film I ever will see, but it is certainly very difficult to pick any flaws. On a cast far from all-star, in a basic setting with not much room to manoeuvre, the movie still manages to hit all of the right notes, and hit them hard.

There’s not much point mentioning the brilliance of Morgan Freeman, because everyone knows his talent and how it has been put to marvellous use here as prison veteran, Red. More interesting is the performance of Tim Robbins and Andy Dufresne. I can’t tell if it’s a well-acted masterclass, portraying a young man apparently out of his depth in a new environment, or if it’s slightly wooden and shy, which just so happened to work beautifully for the character. I’d rather give the benefit of the doubt and say that the months spent studying prisoners and wardens before filming paid off, and some brilliant acting came out the other end to show for it.

The movie is not without its more shocking moments, such as the beating of the “new fish” on the day of Andy’s arrival and the poor demise of Brooks upon his release. These are both relatively early on in proceedings, which keeps the audience intrigued for any sudden outbursts later. The film certainly has slow points, but these are still mixed in with memorable moments, such as the record player/PA system scene. Unlike many other films though, these slow points are adding huge, but subtle, plot devices, which make the ending all the more magical.

This subtlety is one of my favourite aspects. So many things are said, and not explained. Because explanation takes something away. The only part of the movie that adds unnecessary dialogue is where Andy is explaining the money laundering plan to Red. This can be excused however, as this is a relatively complex part of the story, and the clearer it is makes it easier to understand down the line. This means that the film needs to be followed closely, not just listening to what’s being said, but reading in between those lines in order to follow the story. The closer you follow the film, the more you get out of it. This is a clever technique to ensure that the audience is engrossed throughout, and is executed perfectly. It is possible to be too subtle, and the story is just a mess, while being too obvious with the dialogue leaves no time for story progression. Shawshank Redemption manages to find the balance needed for a great film.

Add to this the clever side-stories of chess and “the sisters”, and suddenly the film is building all the way to an inevitably exciting conclusion, although it’s not entirely obvious what it will be. Will he be killed? Will he escape? Will he kill someone else? When the truth is finally revealed, it is a masterstroke. Just as we think he is going to end it all, We find that hope has prevailed and a happy ending awaits.

The final happy ending though, involving Red and Andy, is interestingly upbeat considering some of the darker tones of the movie. Allegedly, original plans for the final scene involved Red going off to uncertainty and most likely death. Luckily, the backstage crew decided that the audience had been pushed through enough emotional turmoil to watch a beloved old man die (again), so they allowed one of the happiest endings of all time to take place.

It’s been a long time coming for me to watch this movie, but it more than lived up to expectations. Not to the hype, not to the 9.4 rating on IMDb (not that IMDb is a good benchmark for film quality), but it did far exceed my high expectations, and I would find it hard to disagree that it is one of the greatest movies of all time.

Rating: 91%


Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

Some of the greatest films of all time have been produced on a relatively low budget, particularly compared to their success. Films like Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects, which didn’t break the bank in production, but received a windfall after release, whether it be in the form of money or awards. There was a short period in time, in the early 2000’s, where using a big budget would still pay off, in the Spielberg/Jackson/Cameron era of top quality, high budget blockbusters. Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, Titanic. Huge budgets, but they paid off, with brand new special effects and big name casts. Nowadays, it is becoming quite clear that less is certainly more. Storyline is more important than effects (sure Avatar was successful, but was it really any good?). Unfortunately, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was released in this era of big directors, and big bank loans. The year of its release, Spielberg won the best director for the $70,000,000 classic, Saving Private Ryan. How can a small independent movie, directed by relative unknown Guy Ritchie, possibly compete, on a budget 70 times smaller?

Despite this, everyone is fully aware of the brilliance of Lock Stock. The breakout movie for Ritchie, also it was Jason Statham’s first big film. What a career he went on to have, kick-started by this classic. The reason it will always be known as one of the better British films of all time, is because of the STORYLINE. It’s not even necessarily the witty back and forth between characters, or the immensely quotable lines excellently delivered by a young, but very talented cast. It’s the way in which several, seemingly unrelated, stories can collide with truly magnificent consequences.

When watching this for the first time, it is a remarkably confusing finale. You’ve been watching multiple different groups of people carry out various illegal things, and before you know it, with just a few, seemingly unimportant turns of events, everyone in London is fighting over two guns and thousands in cash. The viewer is given plenty of people to root for in the resulting clash towards the end of the movie. Of course there are the four heroes. Four lads who tried to gamble themselves a bit of money and ended up in crippling debt with only a week to pay it back. This sets the wheels in motion for one of the most convoluted robberies ever thrown onto a movie screen. They are stealing money from a bunch of ruthless thieves, who in turn are stealing lots of money and drugs from some very posh and therefore hilarious drug dealers. All the while, the arch villain, Hatchet Harry (who has put our four boys in their crippling debt), has asked some scousers to nick some guns. The boys planned on selling any drugs they didn’t need to Rory Breaker, an insane, yet small man, who enjoys the flavour of marijuana. All of these events take place, albeit with some minor hiccups along the way, including the oddly placed Rob Brydon. Once this happens, everyone starts to attack one another in an attempt to take what is rightfully theirs (despite the fact that everything is stolen).

Like I said, the film is a convoluted ride of theft and drugs, with more characters than the alphabet, and some top notch dialogue. The opening scene for example, where Jason Statham’s character is selling stolen goods to some enthusiastic punters. Statham is known for the fact that he used to earn his living as a market trader, so he fits perfectly with the script thrown at him for the opening scene. The cockney accent is used to full effect throughout the movie to deliver some of the best lines, with Lenny McLean being excellent as a menacing right hand man to the main villain. The movie was in fact dedicated to Mclean, who unfortunately died just a month before the film’s release. Arguably though, the best and most memorable line come right at the end, delivered by none other than Vinnie Jones. After the dust has settled and everyone seems to be in the clear, he turns to our four heroes and utters the immortal words “It’s been emotional”.

The day that directors put down the green screen and pick up a whiteboard and start jotting down ideas for actually interesting plots, will be the day the film industry saves itself millions in cash, and might just find itself making some pretty good movies along the way.

Pulp Fiction

Not many films can cause such severe argument as to whether it is good or not. There are films that have good and bad qualities in equal measure, that there are few movies that can divide a room upon its mention. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is most definitely one of these. Personally, I think it’s a great film, with a superstar cast, some of the best dialogue to ever hit Hollywood, and a different take on the standard movie. I mean, who wants to watch a film where everything happens in chronological order?

I can fully understand why people dislike it. The first word that pops up tends to be “boring”. I get it. Watching Bruce Willis chat to his weird French girlfriend for twenty minutes isn’t the most thrilling use of my time either, but this is one of the many things we, as filmgoers, must go through, if we want to see Samuel L Jackson use the “M” word as gracefully as he does. The reason people find Pulp Fiction boring is one of the same reasons so many critics hail Tarantino as an excellent director. “Tarantinoing” is a word used to describe the majority of the dialogue in Pulp Fiction, Resevoir Dogs, and even in more recent flicks like Inglorious Basterds. The definition of the word is where the film has dialogue, between multiple characters, that has no real influence on the plot itself. For example, the famous “Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Paris” scene, isn’t just filler, it’s a mechanism to tell the audience many things about the two characters.

  1. Vincent (John Travolta) has recently returned from Europe.
  2. Both he and Jules (Samuel L Jackson) are familiar with the concept of hash, so to speak.
  3. This familiarity probably explains Vincent’s trip to Amsterdam.
  4. They are good friends/colleagues.
  5. They have preferred fast food outlets.
  6. Probably more.

In one minute worth of screen-time, we have been offered so many facts about two of the main characters, without any of them actually being said. Just two people having an everyday conversation, which allows the audience to pick out the relevant facts. For example, now we know they’re into drugs, is there any chance that this could come back to affect them later on? Lo and behold, yes it does. It’s not foreshadowing, because not all of the facts are relevant, but then, that is the point. Its two people, talking, allowing the viewers to understand the characters that we are watching, which from there allows us to not be surprised by their actions later (This also happens even more blatantly in Reservoir Dogs, but that’s for another day).

I briefly mentioned the cast, and I shall again. I said it was a superstar cast, and I was right, but I must admit that it’s not the acting that makes it a good movie. Sure Jackson is on a different level, for which he should have won an Oscar, but at least picked up a BAFTA. Travolta I was less impressed with. Admittedly, a gritty crime film in which he murders two people, is very different from Grease and Saturday Night Fever. One of the best, and most convincing performances is actually from Ving Rhames, as Marsellus Wallace. A terrific villain, with the deep voice and the way in which he executes every word, I am surprised he didn’t receive more plaudits for his role, however small it may have been.

The plot itself is another reason people get switched off. A jumbled up timeframe, no obvious ending, and a gimp. It’s understandable as to why it doesn’t convince everyone. But there is so much more to the film than its plot. There are many fan theories being thrown around as to what’s in the briefcase that everyone is so determined to get, whether it be Marsellus Wallace’s soul, some form of generic Eldorado type jewellery, or simply a lightbulb and certificate of authenticity from “Willies 100% Authentic Treasures”. There are other theories floating around that the entire movie is some kind of reference to pop culture. For example, John Travolta’s character, Vincent, is likened to Elvis in the movie. Elvis, as we all know, died on the toilet/ was found dead next to the toilet. Every time Vincent goes to the toilet, something bad happens, particularly after his last visit. Once you realise that this is a nod to Mr Presley, you can start inferring anything you want about other characters, and what symbol of society they might be representing.

Pulp Fiction is more than a crime drama with witty characters. It’s a shout-out to pop culture, and how it is almost like “pulp”. As in, ground up, mushy, simplistic fiction, and this film is merely the cure to the mass of pulp that we see on our screens (Back in 1994 I mean). I could be wrong, I probably am, it may be that the film literally is about four unrelated storylines colliding to have lots of people with guns swearing, but that is that basic definition of pulp fiction.

So if you happen to be one of the people who isn’t entirely convinced, watch it again, but this time don’t worry about the plot, focus on the details, because that’s where the magic of this movie come into play. I dare you. I double dare you m***********.

Rating: 93%

Kingsman: The Secret Service

I’ll admit that I was slightly biased when I went into the cinema to watch this last night. I have a bit of an affinity for well-made comedy/action films (as everyone should), so it would have taken a lot to disappoint me. This style of film is a rare breed and when it comes around is always well received, provided the job is done right. Hot Fuzz, Zombieland, Kick-Ass. All in that zone of “comedy with a plot” or “action film with funny actors.” Kingsman slots into this section with ease. It’s got all the components of one of those films that can be watched again and again.

That film kicks off with a big exploding battle gun fight things to a soundtrack of Dire Straits. This suggested that the film would go one of two ways. Cheesy, over the top film trying to be a serious blockbuster putting in so many clichés that it just gets repetitive and dull halfway through, or, a good honest movie that wants to have a good time and look awesome in equal measure. As the film progressed, it became clear that is was the latter. There were some cheesy moments, but these were more than excused for with the clever, very original scenes that came in later. Very good fight scenes, with fairly water tight CGI, but were mainly well-choreographed. This is the blessing that the film needed. If it was poor CGI, then no matter how much the film doesn’t take itself seriously, the viewers wouldn’t be able to either. Luckily it just about managed to scrape through. The beauty though, was that these minor hiccups didn’t matter as the film actually had some excellent dialogue. Some clichés, but seemed to be more interested in avoiding them, which is always a bonus in modern movies. Each action scene is better than the last though, and although there are some farfetched moments, there’s nothing that could be construed as unrealistic (apart from the whole plot perhaps, but then again think of any Bond film and tell me that the plot is within the realm of sanity).

Having good writers to give you witty dialogue is all well and good, but you need the cast to be able to deliver it. And wow, did they get the right cast. Colin Firth is a brilliant example. If ever there was a case for someone to become the new Bond, this is it. Immaculate performance, incredibly classy, but also surprisingly nimble in the action sequences. And of course, with that accent, anything he says sounds incredible, which he used to full affect. In my opinion though, he was overshadowed by the lead role. Taron Egerton, who I admit I’d never heard of previously, was remarkably good. He managed to pull off two completely different character types within one film, which is a very difficult skill, but he managed it well. A confident performance, and he certainly didn’t seem overpowered by other big names such as Firth, Caine and Strong. And also Mr Samuel L Jackson. I’ve never seen him play a character quite like this before. A nerdy, nervous guy with a lisp. Jackson’s characters are usually those who dominate others in interrogation (see. Any Film with Him in), and control every conversation. This guy though, Valentine, has a fear of blood, and is an internet nerd billionaire, so this was very new ground for Jackson. And although he played it well, it was clear that he was trying his hardest not to appear terrifying when talking.

How did they get such big names in the film? Simple, use the money gained from the outrageous product placement throughout the movie. There’s nothing wrong with a little nod here and there to your sponsors, but some of the scenes were just controlled by the global brands that we really don’t need to see more adverts for. However, if it brings in the money to make the film just that bit better here and there, why not?

In a discussion after the film, myself and some friends determined that the film might not hit it big in the US. Not just because it’s an English director and not just because there’s a huge joke made at the expense of some American Churches. No, it’s more likely because the film is filled with very British humour, and very British references. And this isn’t all too surprising, when the director of the movie is Matthew Vaughn. This guy was the producer for both Snatch and for Lock, Stock, and two Smoking Barrels, he was the director of Kick-Ass, which actually cast some of the actors from the aforementioned films. This means that while this film may have mixed reviews in the states, it’s bound to be a sure-fire success here, where it matters.

All in all then it is definitely a must see. This could be a new era arriving now, where these big action blockbusters that seem to be rolled out on the production line of mediocrity, decide to scrap their plans and instead just make a simple film. A film made to make us laugh, make us gasp, and for once, just be enjoyable.

Rating: 85%