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

12 Angry Men (1957)

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Director: Sidney Lumet Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Martin Balsam

Twelve jurors are tasked with deciding on the case of a young boy who is accused of murdering his father. While eleven are confident of his guilt, one doesn’t think the evidence is enough to convict the boy for sure, and it’s up to him to convince the others.

As I’m gradually ticking off films in IMDb’s top 250, 12 Angry Men was next on my list. I had to build myself up to watch it, because I knew it was one of those films with lots of talking that requires attention throughout- and finally got around to it on a relaxed Sunday evening.

Actually, it turned out not to be as much of a difficult watch as I’d thought. It didn’t feel too long (after all it is only about an hour and a half), and as the jurors changed their mind one by one there were clear pointers to show the plot moving on. With it being a group of twelve middle-aged white men, and the film in black and white, it started off slightly difficult to identify certain characters individually. However as the film progresses each juror shows their particular personalities, and fairly soon I was able to pick out who was still saying guilty or not guilty. The script is obviously split up between twelve different people so each character doesn’t necessarily get many lines, but still the writing allows for their different personalities to come through.

The issue I did have- and this may well be just me- was that once one person picks a hole in the prosecution’s argument, there’s clearly an element of doubt and so they have to go for not guilty. The main character’s points were enough for me to doubt the guilt of the accused, but it took more than that to sway the other jurors. Not having ever been a juror myself, I can’t say how realistic this would be. Having said that, some of the characters (notably the last one to sway to not guilty) had personal reasons for starting off with a guilty verdict, however unreasonable, which adds to the characterisation and so gives the film some depth.

As I say, this is a thinking person’s film and there’s a lot of dialogue, so don’t watch it when you’re tired or looking for something to watch lightly. If you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s easy to follow and enjoyable. Definitely one to watch to examine different characters and how a script can build up characterisation.

4 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

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