Rocky (1976)

rockyDirector: John G. Avildsen Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith

A down-on-his-luck amateur boxer from Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa, is selected as the challenger to a heavyweight champion when he visits the city. While the champion’s team plan on an easy victory mostly for entertainment, they are surprised when Rocky seems to be taking it seriously.

With an upcoming trip to Philadelphia planned, I thought I’d better watch the most famous movie set in the city, especially given that aside from the Liberty Bell the most famous attraction there is the “Rocky Steps”. I’d never really considered watching Rocky as it just never really crossed my radar for one reason or another, apart from the iconic montage scene. I really enjoyed it in the end though, and it’s got me successfully pumped up for when I take my photo at the top of the steps in a few month’s time (don’t think I’ll be running up though).

The plot is pretty basic- sympathetic good guy gets a shot at making his name, and when no one thinks he can do it he surprises them all. But it really plays on the feeling that we’ve all been there- perhaps not quite as extreme as Rocky’s situation, but the feeling that when nothing’s going right you’ve got to take any opportunities that are given to you, and you’ve got to try your hardest even if you might not succeed. The film doesn’t make a secret of playing on this angle, as the fight organisers intentionally go with the “American Dream” theme to promote the event, but Rocky is written as an effectively appealing and relatable character to make it not seem sappy. Certainly don’t think it’s just a film about boxing, or a stereotypical sports movie. Boxing is just the backdrop to the human relationships and trials of life.

I would definitely recommend this movie to, to be honest, anyone. It’s not full of laughs or action, but as I say it’s relatable and moving, and while it’s serious it’s not hard to watch. I would also say it’s fairly family-friendly- obviously it involves fighting but not really “violence”. I’m just annoyed I waited so long to watch it!

5 stars

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue-one

Director: Gareth Edwards Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mandelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed

Set between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars films, we follow the group of rebels that set out to find the plans to destroy the Empire’s Death Star in order to destroy it.

FINALLY, you must be thinking, it’s a review for Rogue One. I’ve been very very slow on this one- I’d like to say it’s because I wanted more time to really digest the film but in reality I’ve just been very very lazy. Anyway, I’ve now seen it twice so feel reasonably well-informed, and here we are.

First time around, I came out of the theatre thinking this was ok, pretty good, not as good as The Force Awakens, but enjoyable nonetheless. However, as time passed I started to appreciate more and more what this films adds to the cinematic Star Wars story, and now I think it was excellent. As many people have said, the first hour or so moves quite slowly as it takes time to line up all the tangents of storyline that are necessary for the second half of the film. Although it feels quite bitty, I’d much rather they did it this way than set aside a whole movie just to set up the actual subject matter of the film (as The Hobbit unfortunately did…). It was important to bring all the necessary elements together, so it’s worth sitting through.

Once we’ve got all our characters established, the film really gets going and it’s uphill from there. We have just enough back story of the main characters to feel sympathetic towards them, and we start to see how all this is heading towards the events of Episode IV. We see a side of the rebellion that isn’t really explored in the original trilogy, one that is more violent and involves *gasp* actual death. Plot-wise it all makes sense, and it fills the crucial plot hole that was why on earth did the Empire allow such a weakness on the Death Star that allowed the rebels to destroy it with relative ease. Well now we know, and no more sleepless nights for Star Wars fans.

The part that made me appreciate this film gradually was the use of Darth Vader. He only appears for a very short time, and if you’re not really a Star Wars fan I think much of the Vader sub-plot in Rogue One would go over your head, but it really builds upon his characterisation as the villain. We see Vader in his castle on Mustafar (the volcanic planet where Obi-Wan chopped off both of Anakin’s arms and legs in one legendary swish of his lightsaber), showing how much Vader is consumed by his pain and suffering from the past- which is what keeps him on the Dark Side of the Force. His spell in the bacta tank is a short relief from his physical (and mental?- deep) pain, emphasising his continuing struggle with being pulled between both sides of the Force. The final Vader scene was probably the most epic 60 seconds of cinema I have seen in a long while, cementing his place as my number one favourite villain (and even movie character?!) of all time.

Vader obsession aside, there are soooo many nods to the original films. I liked seeing Senator Bail Organa again (one of the few redeeming characters from the prequels), and the sound effects of X-Wings and TIE fighters will never get old, among many other little cameos.

Rogue One is absolutely a must-see for any Star Wars fan as it fills in a lot of holes and only adds good things to the wider Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen the originals, probably not worth it (but then I would obviously recommend watching the originals anyway…). Family-friendly, fairly easy plot to follow, and of course Darth Vader who will only ever be awesome.

4.5 stars

The Great Dictator (1940)

the-great-dictator

Director: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner, Henry Daniell

After spending years in a hospital recovering from memory loss brought on from an accident in the First World War, a Jewish barber returns to his old neighbourhood to find it is suffering persecution under the rule of a new dictator. Meanwhile the dictator himself struggles to assert his new authority.

I think the most interesting aspect of the film is putting it into the context of when it was made- 1940, as the Second World War was really starting to get underway. Post-war films have often struggled about how to portray Hitler and the persecution of the Jewish people, and for many years film-makers avoided it altogether, not wanting to provoke controversy. However The Great Dictator is both an amusing satire that successfully pokes fun at Hitler and the politics of the time, as well as a poignant and powerful portrayal of what was then the present-day reality of Germany under the Nazi regime. The film was made before the full extent of the atrocities in Europe were known, and so perhaps benefitted from not having the pressure to consider the extreme aspects of the Second World War that we now know.

Subject matter aside, the film (which was Chaplin’s first “talkie”) is pleasantly amusing. There’s plenty of Chaplin’s signature slapstick, as well as some clever satire which is still funny almost 80 years later. One particular scene in which Hynkel and Napaloni (Chaplin’s portrayals of Hitler and Mussolini respectively) can’t work out whether to shake hands or salute had me reminiscing about a Dad’s Army style of humour.

While I wouldn’t say that the film is light, it’s certainly not your usual intense Second World War drama (no Das Boot levels of tension here). It’s enjoyable, but quite clearly makes its points about fascism. It’s also considered a classic on a number of levels, so certainly worth a watch.

5 stars

City Lights (1931)

City Lights

Director: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Myers, Allan Garcia

Charlie Chaplin’s famous character “the Tramp” falls in love with a poor flower seller, who happens to be blind. She mistakes the Tramp for a wealthy man, a mistake which the Tramp is happy to go along with. The blind girl falls on hard times and the Tramp promises to help her out by whatever means possible.

If I had to sum up City Lights in the shortest way possible, that word would be “nice”, an adjective which I’ve been taught never to use under any circumstances from an early age. But it really is. The film is innocent, sweet and well-meaning, and while the characters have flaws, they are loveable flaws nonetheless. However, this aspect doesn’t take away from the films realism. The protagonist is after all a tramp, the flower girl lives in poverty and all the while we see the opulence of the other end of society in the wealthy man and his life of indulgence.

The film is silent, but Charlie Chaplin’s expressive eyebrows are all the script that the film needs. I had never properly sat down and watched a full-length silent film before this, but I found I got used to it pretty quickly and it wasn’t as difficult to get into the story as I thought it might be. The final scene for which the film is most noted is beautiful, and the feelings get across without the actors saying a word.

There are funny moments, sad moments, frustrating moments and happy moments all squeezed into the short 1 hour 21 minutes running time. It’s hard to think of someone that wouldn’t like this film as it covers a lot of genres, is suitable for all ages and is easy to watch, although the silent aspect of it may put some people off. Definitely a must-see for those who like classic movies.

5 stars