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

The Third Man (1949)

Third Man

Director: Carol Reed Cast: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee

A man travels to post-war Vienna to visit an old friend, whom upon arrival he discovers to be dead. However, after a little digging the man thinks there’s more to his friend’s death than meets the eye. A classic film-noir thriller.

The Third Man is a great film to watch from a cinematographic point of view. The film has a really eerie and haunting feel due to the debris all across post-war Vienna, which is accentuated by the black and white shadows. The film certainly wouldn’t have the same impact if it were filmed in colour, especially the moment when we first see Orson Welles’ character, which is made hugely dramatic by the use of darkness to hide his face followed by light for the big reveal. The shadow make the buildings appear grand and looming, which makes the famous chase scene towards the end feel suitably disorientating.

In terms of plot, it’s a good story and I like the characters being morally ambiguous. However, I did figure out the plot almost immediately- even my mum worked it out, and that is saying something. I think this detracted away a little from the “thrilling” aspect of this classic thriller, as I wasn’t really on the edge of my seat. However, the story covers a number of interesting political and historical aspects, such as post-war corruption in the defeated nations such as Austria, the uncertainty of post-war Europe, and what it means to be “moral”. The following line sums up nicely the film’s mixture of black humour and thought-provoking messages: “Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This is definitely a film for adults, not because of any inappropriate content but rather because its messages which might be easily missed. The plot also builds slowly so it’s not for those who want fast-paced action from start to finish, plus there’s a lot of dialogue which I found required a lot of concentration. The obvious storyline loses it a star from my perspective, but visually it’s a lovely film to watch and appreciate.

4 stars

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now

Director: Francis Ford Coppola Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne aged 12, Robert Duvall

During the Vietnam war, an army captain is sent on a mission to kill a previously well-respected colonel who has lost the plot and formed a cult in the Cambodian jungle.

If I could describe this film in one word, it would be trippy. I watched this film a good few years ago now, but on a small, poor quality screen, and I don’t think it was quite able appreciate the claustrophobic and stressful nature of the film. The soundtrack is very very weird, which is key in emphasising the almost surreal nature of the chaotic Vietnam war. It actually won an Oscar for Sound, which I think it 100% deserved as the sound is so key to the emotions that the audience is supposed to feel. Much of the film takes place in the dark or at night, which adds to the claustrophobia as you can’t really tell what’s going on. Additionally, rarely do you get a wide landscape shot but rather the film is mostly close-ups, which again means you can’t get a full picture of the environment, and it just all feels very constricted and almost anxiety-inducing (its other Oscar was for Cinematography). Clearly, these are not emotions that you’d usually be comfortable with, but the film really does capture that side of what really was a significantly traumatic conflict.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that this film is boring, too long, and doesn’t really make a lot of sense. While I would agree that it is hard to make sense of much of what is going on in the physical environment, this is kind of the point (see above) and in reality the plot is actually very straight-forward. It is long, but I personally didn’t find this an issue and I can’t think of any particular part that isn’t relevant or is pointless.

This is probably one of the better war films I’ve seen, as it’s not simply a narrative of events but rather an attempt at getting across the realities of the Vietnam war (which I found it did very successfully). Not family viewing for sure, but it’s a good film and I would watch it again.

4 stars

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max

Director: George Miller Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, a loner finds himself helping a group of women to escape from the oppressive town where they live under an unpleasant leader. Involves plenty of chase scenes, sand, and silver spray paint.

I’d heard great things about this film when it was out at the cinema, but never got around to going to see it. Well I’ve finally watched it about a year late, and it was epic. There is minimal plot (basically the group tries to escape and spends the whole film running away from their pursuers) and the whole thing is just so weird- but awesome.

The film won a whopping six Oscars, pretty much all to do with costume design, film editing, sound, and that type of thing. It really is quite spectacular to watch and it well deserved its awards; the whole thing seems to be on such a huge, epic scale. My favourite aspect of the film was the soundtrack: it was suitably loud, aggressive and fast-paced, but the best part was that there is actually a character whose job is to play background music on an electric guitar backed up by enormous speakers to go along with the chase. It’s a clever way of really incorporating the importance of the sound into the plot and progression of the film. Tom Hardy barely says anything through the whole movie, but is clearly one of those actors who can act with just a “presence”, as you really get a feel for the character of Max with hardly hearing him speak (similarly to Leo in The Revenant).

Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely weird but it really is an epic watch. It’s easy to follow and is pretty much one long action sequence so is a good choice if you’re looking for something that doesn’t require too much thinking. It’s a prime example of a film that has really invested in its production, and the bigger the screen the better.

5 stars