Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Director: Amy Heckerling Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Brain Backer, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates (and also Nicholas Cage for all of 5 seconds)

We follow the escapades of a group of high school students over the course of a year, including romance, jobs, studies and general teenagery-ness.

Fast Times is a bit of a cult classic, lesser known than some of the other 1980s high school student flicks, but feels like one of the more authentic or realistic ones. Indeed, the story is based on the experiences of film-maker Cameron Crowe, who spent a year undercover as a high school student and wrote a book on his experiences. The events feel a lot more like stuff that would actually happen to regular teenagers, rather than far-fetched hijinks, and I think it definitely adds to the enjoyability of the film if you can look back and reminisce on some of your own high school experiences.

Not all the stories are totally connected and the links between the characters or individual plots can be a bit tenuous, so from a standard film-viewing perspective it might seem a little unstructured or random. However, this also adds to the realism, so we can mostly forgive that. I would also warn that not all the scenes would probably get past a film classification board today, so might be a little odd for modern audiences (mainly the underage sex). It’s not one I’d watch with my parents…

This is definitely a must-see for 80s fans, especially as it’s up there in the genre of “golden-age” classics such as The Breakfast ClubBack to the Future or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s certainly not appropriate for younger audiences (I think it’s rated 18 here in the UK), but is a good dose of nostalgia for adults.

3 stars

All Eyez on Me (2017)

Director: Benny Boom Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Dominic Santana, Kat Graham, Annie Ilonzeh

Long time, no activity on ScreenSnap. Apologies for the hiatus- it’s been a hectic few months but what better way to ease back in than to review the biopic of one of my all time fave humans, Tupac Shakur. All Eyez on Me follows the story of the legendary rapper from his early childhood to his death in 1996, exploring the relationships and experiences that made him who he was.

As I’ve mentioned, I love 2pac and I was excited to see how his life would be represented on screen. On the whole, I was pretty pleased- people often underrate what a good writer and poet he actually was, (by tarring the whole hip-hop genre with one brush) and the movie did a good job of showing these aspects of his life, for example exploring his time at the Baltimore School of the Arts. For someone watching the film who didn’t know much about his life, I think this part would surprise them positively and I was glad they showed these more unknown bits.

Unfortunately though, the structure of the film made the whole thing a bit bitty and I felt like some scenes that could have gone somewhere were cut off, while other scenes lingered for too long. The first half of the film is structured mainly with flashbacks, with the present being an interview with Tupac while he’s in prison. Then once the flashbacks catch up with the present (prison), the rest of the film just follows a linear timeline. This felt a bit random- I felt it should have been one or the other, and it meant that the flashbacks were shorter and ended just as they were getting interesting, while the second half of the film felt like it went on and on. Consequently, some parts were missed and others were too over-the-top.

The stand-out character was Afeni, Tupac’s mother, and I was pleased that they did spend quite a bit of time exploring her story and their relationship, as this was essential to understanding the person that Tupac became. I was definitely most convinced by the performance of Danai Gurira (of The Walking Dead fame), who played Afeni. Following Straight Outta Compton, in which all the characters were cast superbly and the actors captured their characters almost flawlessly, All Eyez on Me wasn’t quite as good at this. The guy who played Tupac looked almost exactly like him and captured his mannerisms pretty well, but the others just weren’t quite as good. After watching Straight Outta Compton I came away amazed at how well they managed it, but this one didn’t have quite the same effect.

I would recommend this to people who already know a bit about Tupac and who are already fans, but generally if you’re not interested already it will probably be quite boring. As far as biopics go, I don’t think it would convince people to find out more about his life or music (whereas I thought the opposite about Straight Outta Compton). A solid effort but nothing outstanding. The soundtrack is pretty good though.

2.5 stars

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

trip-to-the-moon

Director: Georges Méliès Cast: uncredited

A group of astronomers take a trip to the moon. (Who would have guessed from the title?)

Bit of a weird one this, but bear with me. In the numerous coffee-table books on films that I’ve collected, this is pretty much always the first one on the list of ones to watch. This 1902 short film (12 minutes, and it’s on YouTube) is generally credited as being one of the first popular films. It brought special effects into the mainstream, and despite its length manages a substantial plot and even some anti-imperialist satire.

It definitely helped to watch this film with my 1902 Edwardian-era hat on, in order to appreciate the film in the way that it would have been appreciated at the time. I was actually really surprised at how good the effects were for the time. For example, the aliens that live on the moon suddenly vanish in a flash of smoke, and it doesn’t look clunky by any means. The face on the moon (which admittedly is the stuff of nightmares) is cleverly superimposed- I didn’t even know they could do that as early as then. It’s also interesting to remember that no one had actually been to the moon at that time- so it really was just science fiction for people to travel there from Earth.

This, clearly, is a film you’d watch to study and appreciate the history of film, and not for settling into the sofa with a bowl of popcorn. Definitely recommended for discussing at dinner parties to make you seem sophisticated and erudite.

Hard to rate this one… 3 stars?

Troy (2004)

troyDirector: Wolfgang Petersen Cast: Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Sean Bean

Based on the classic Greek epic poem The Iliad, a large Greek army is provoked into invading the city of Troy after the Trojan prince, Paris, steals Greek King Agamemnon’s wife. Included in the invading forces are the sensible Odysseus and the famous warrior Achilles. The Greeks seem to be defeated until Odysseus comes up with a plan to get them within the Trojan city gates…

I really think that Troy gets an unfairly hard time. The story of The Iliad is probably one of the most famous stories ever told and has cultural references that still resound today despite being written thousands of years ago- everyone knows what is meant by an Achilles heel or a Trojan horse. So, for such a famous story I think the film does a pretty good job of portraying it, and I was pleased to see it put on the big screen.

The plot’s not exact, but it’s mostly on point. I remember when the film first came out it was criticised a lot for giving the story the Hollywood effect, but I struggle to think of any movie adaptation that doesn’t deviate from the original text. It features all the key characters from the original text, plus the short scene at the end where Paris gives the sword of Troy to Aeneas is subtle detail and a nod to classical literature that Ancient History nerds will appreciate (but it also brings back traumatic memories of having to study The Aeneid for my Latin GCSE…).

What did strike me about the film was how bad an actor Orlando Bloom really is. And trust me, it pains me to say it because Legolas is one of my favourite movie characters of all time, but when Orlando actually has quite a lot of dialogue to deliver he’s really quite bad. I’d much prefer him to stick to running around New Zealand and insulting Gimli.

Generally, the battle scenes are pretty standard- not too gory or over the top, and there’s not excessive use of CGI (*cough* Battle of the Five Armies *cough*). The film is long, but I don’t think it drags on and all the scenes add characterisation and are important plot points.

I think Troy is a fairly light watch, it’s not difficult to follow and is your standard action flick with a bit (but not too much) romance thrown in. Worth giving it a go- ignore the haters.

3 stars