By Dan Skip Allen
Martin Scorsese came into his own as a filmmaker while he was making Raging Bull. As a human being, he was coming off of the toughest time in his life. He never wanted to direct Raging Bull. It was a sports movie and he wasn't interested in sports. And Rocky had come out a few years before, so he figured he couldn't get another boxing film made. Robert De Niro came to Scorsese about this book about Jake LaMotta, and he changed his mind based on their relationship. He knew Marty and what he was going through. Scorcese found a place he could come from after reading the book. It was a difficult place in LaMotta's life. He used it as a framing device and went into the meat and potatoes of his life after that.
"About a steak" is the scene that resonates with me because it reminded me of my own father and mother. They argued like cats and dogs very similar to this scene. The steak scene shows the explosive nature of Jake LaMotta and how he can go from a calm person to a "raging bull". Another scene is when Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is questioning his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) about whether or not he had sex with his wife Vicki (Kathy Moriarty). He runs out of his apartment down the block and goes into Joey's apartment and starts attacking him. The very explosive nature of this man is at the heart of this film. That where the moniker of "raging bull" came from, not to mention he was an absolute beast in the ring as well.
There have been some great boxing movies that came out over the decades. Rocky, Cinderella Man, Ali, and The Hurricane all come to mind. Filmmakers have learned from Scorsese and Raging Bull how to film boxing matches. The crane overhead circling the ring kept the scenes moving quickly and very frantic. They kept it hit some of the fighters looked weary and tired while filming scenes as well. These fights were some of the best ever put to the screen. LaMotta fought "Sugar" Ray Robinson six times and they were all great fights. They split most of them but Robinson had the edge on the win-loss record. LaMotta won one big one though. The scene near the end of the film was very prophetic though, "You never got me down, Ray." This is a play on Scorsese's own life. Drugs and alcohol never took control of him and got him down. This line was the most powerful in the film because of the double meaning it had.
Scorsese had made personal and working relationships on Raging Bull that he would keep the rest of his life. Obviously, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Frank Vincent are actors he's worked with for over forty years. Thelma Schoonmaker his editor and friend for nearly fifty years as well. She has won three Academy Awards. Her first film editing for Scorsese was Raging Bull and it allowed her to win her first Oscar. Paul Schrader, a great writer and director in his own right, wrote the script for both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
An indicator of how great something is is how people rank it or list it. People Magazine put out their ranking of the best films of the '80s and Raging Bull was number one. The most famous film critics of the time, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, both had Raging Bull as their number one film of the decade as well. The big precursor of greatness as far as films go is the Academy Awards. Raging Bull was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning two: Robert De Niro for Best Actor and the aforementioned Thelma Schoonmaker for Best Film Editing. Scorsese, Pesci, and the film all lost to Robert Redford, Timothy Hutton, and Ordinary People at that year's Oscars.
This film really resonated with me as a six-year-old child because it reminded me of my life. The arguing and fighting were like my parents. The types of places they lived in were like my homes as a little kid as well. The loud neighbors as well. The violent nature of La Motta really reminded me of my father growing up. This seemed like my life. Not the idyllic life portrayed in Ordinary People. I'm sure I'm not the only person who can relate to this film. These types of people existed everywhere then and still do today. These days there is medicine for anger issues.
Sports films are one of the best genres of film now and years ago. They can inspire like Chariots of Fire or they can make you sad like Rocky. In the case of Raging Bull, they can make you angry. Jake LaMotta is a despicable human being. He has no redeeming qualities except that he is an incredible boxer. Is this an excuse for all his behavior in this film? Probably not! Sports films take you as a viewer on a trip down a road. Sometimes it's a fun and enjoyable trip and sometimes it's not. Raging Bull isn't for the faint of heart. But the best films aren't always happy. Sometimes they are just depressing and upsetting. As far as life goes, it's not always fun, enjoyable, or happy. It can be a bad experience. For Jake LaMotta, he had good times, but mostly bad times. Most people have more bad times in life than good. Raging Bull is a picture of a damaged, dark human being. That doesn't mean it's not a good film. From my perspective and many others, it means it's a great film. Scorsese is a great director for taking these dark characters like Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin, and Jake LaMotta and giving them life on the big screen. But Robert De Niro gets a lot of credit for imbuing them with everything emotion he could.
By Dan Skip Allen
In the roaring '20s, gangsters ruled with an iron fist. The law had no ground to stand on. In Chicago, Al Capone (Robert De Niro) was the man in charge of all the criminal activities. He did this under the auspices of a legitimate business. Prohibition was the rule of the land at this time. Capone didn't like this and he kept doing his illegal things despite the laws prohibiting them. Elliott Ness and his men tried to stand in his way despite opposition to the contrary.
Ness (Kevin Costner) is a treasury officer. He has been tasked with taking down Capone by any means necessary. The problem is the police are on Capone's payroll. Any time he gets close to making a bust, the criminals have already cleared out or gotten word that Ness is sniffing around. Ness needs to find some honest good trustworthy cops to help him break through the red tape. He finds one guy named Jim Malone (Sean Connery) who is an honest cop who has the in on some of the illegal activities going on in the city. They recruit a young man from the Academy as well, George Stone (Andy Garcia).
Sean Connery's Malone has some great quotes in this film. He's the only one who knows what it takes to get Capone. That's why he won an Academy Award in 1988 for his role in The Untouchables. He was great in this film. Even though he made a name for himself as James Bond, films like this, The Presidio, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade are the films that show his real acting ability.
Kevin Costner started coming into his own around this time in his career. Field of Dreams and Bull Durham both were successes with fans and critics alike, but his role as Elliott Ness in The Untouchables was his breakout role. Sure he had small roles in The Big Chill, American Flyers, and plenty of other films. The Untouchables showed he had range as an actor. It didn't hurt that he had a great script by David Mamet and direction from Brian De Palma to help him out.
Gangster films have been some of the best films since The Godfather Films. Scorsese's take in Goodfellas and Casino, Bugsy, Scarface have all tackled the gangster genre, but none have gone the route of looking at gangster films from the point of the police like The Untouchables has. De Palma, Mamet, and company have made a great film about this tumultuous time in U.S. history anchored by a great performance from Sean Connery as Jim Malone, the man who swore to uphold the law no matter what it takes.
By Adam Donato
After the exponential success of The Blair Witch Project, Artisan Entertainment expedited a sequel despite the lack of support of Haxan Films and the original directors. That always works out, right? Unfortunately, although deservedly, the film was a critical failure. The film even underperformed at the box office as the $15 million dollar budget only produced a $47 million dollar worldwide gross. Seeing as the first movie made almost $250 million on a $60,000 budget, they rushed a sequel to capitalize on box office popularity, and in doing so, sacrificed the quality of the film. All of this points to the film being rightfully forgotten in the history of bad horror sequels. The problem: there is a good movie somewhere in there.
The sequel was given to documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger. In his defense, there are a lot of good ideas in this movie. The plot acts as if the first movie exists in their world. It opens with real news footage about the movie and transitions into staged interviews of the “real” citizens of Burkittsville talking about the impact of the movie on their town. All of the characters in the main group are interesting in their own way. There’s a town native basket-case, who is capitalizing on the Blair Witch by selling merchandise and is the host of the Blair Witch Hunt they go on. A couple is researching the Blair Witch but from opposing perspectives as the man is a skeptic and the woman is a believer. Tagging along is an actual Wicken, who is disgruntled by the negative exposure of her religion depicted in The Blair Witch Project. The last is a goth psychic, who is just a big fan of the movie. This is a diverse group of personalities and watching them slowly descend into madness as they argue about their perspective on the witch makes this group more memorable than your average horror movie.
The studio wanted a more mainstream horror movie than Berlinger was trying to make. They forced the police interviews of the characters to be sporadically placed throughout the movie, instead of all at the beginning and the end, which is what Berlinger wanted. Also sporadically placed throughout the movie is flashback shots of the group murdering people in the woods. Berlinger said this ruins the ambiguous tone of the movie, which it does. It’s clear that Berlinger wanted to make less of a commercial/standard horror movie, and more of a meta, in-depth psychological thriller. He was trying to say something about the willingness of people to believe in the first movie. It’s a bold idea to go from a documentary-style found footage movie to a more traditional narrative feature that is about documentary-style found footage.
This review is a retrospective, which is interesting since the franchise has made moves since. Instead of moving forward with another sequel in the franchise, the studio decided to forget about the movie and make a “force awakens” type of reboot/sequel called Blair Witch. The film is basically a beat-for-beat copy of the original plot, besides the motivation for going into the woods. The brother of Heather Donahue still believes his sister is in the woods and wants to go find her with his friends. That is a bad idea for a myriad of reasons, including the fact that it’s been almost 20 years. The connection to the first movie is weak. In hindsight, the idea of making a sequel where The Blair Witch Project movie exists and we get to see the Mets ramifications from all different types of perspectives is brilliant. Hate the sequel for being a cheesy early 2000’s horror movie, but at least it was trying to be something new.
In a lot of ways, some more intentional than others, the movie is a riot. All of the characters are absolutely ridiculous as they heavily lean into stereotypes. The sheriff of Burkittsville is always upset in the most “over it” kind of way. Every single one of the haunted town members is insane people. The early 2000’s soundtrack is obnoxious in the best way possible. Call it a bad movie if you want, but it can be considered so bad that it’s good.
Ambition in movies should be encouraged. The entire concept of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is wild and there are so many good ideas inside. It just hurts to see the movie not be allowed to be what it was trying to be. While it isn’t all for nothing, the studio deserves the negative response this sequel got, but not the director. There’s a great movie in there and the glimpses of its greatness are worth being remembered. Pour one out for yet another creator having their art be tampered with in the name of corporate greed.
By Dan Skip Allen
Here are a handful of the films I saw at the Urbanworld 2020 Film Festival, which gives a voice to directors who haven't been in the spotlight before. They have all been telling very interesting and important stories in all different genres and styles. Some of them can be found right now on HBO Max and Amazon Prime. The rest will be available soon.
Charm City Kings
Based on a documentary, Charm City Kings depicts the lives of three young men who want to be somebody in life. They don't want to just be working stiffs in a downtrodden section of Baltimore, Maryland. Mouse (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), Lamont (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.), and Sweartagawd (Kezii Curtis) are childhood friends. Like most kids their age and creed, these guys have a hard time adjusting. They only really enjoy themselves when there riding their bikes through the streets of the neighborhoods. Mouse wants more, though. He wants to join the Midnight Clique, a dirt bike crew that roams the Baltimore streets. The boys see the fast money that comes with riding with the Midnight Clique, so the lines between the straight and narrow are blurred.
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Over the decades, this country has had its fair share of voter fraud and even downright intimidation at the polls, mostly in the southern states but sometimes out West. Voter suppression is an old trick by people intending to fraud a particular county, district, or state. Fine print put into laws that have been passed over the years is a very frequent trick to cause voter fraud. Amendments 14, 15, 16, and 19 were very hard to get put in the constitution. All voter laws. The country suppressed different groups for many years. Lisa Cortez and Liz Garbus decided that they were going to focus on one particular person to focus their energy and vision on: Stacy Abrams, who ran for Governor in 2018. The film explores how voter suppression affected that election and how government officials running for office shouldn't be in charge of said election. This led her to make a concession speech mainly focused on voter suppression. This was the start for her becoming an activist against voter suppression not just in Georgia, but around the country.
The Water Man
Actors becoming directors isn't anything new to the film industry. Over the years actors have delved into the realm of directing. Some with great success, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and Robert Redford, and others not so well. With The Water Man, David Oyelowo takes his turn in the director's chair. It is a relative success, but not overwhelmingly so. Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) is a young man dealing with a sick mother (Rosario Dawson) and a father (David Oyelowo) trying to keep his house and family together despite his wife's illness. Lonnie hears about a mythic character named The Water Man that has found a way to escape death. He sets out on an adventure to find out about The Water Man. During his adventure, he meets a young girl named Jo (Amiah Miller) who helps him along the way.
The Donut King
The Donut King, Ted Ngoy, grew up in Cambodia as a kid and as a young man, the Khmer Rouge took over his country and forced all the people out of the cities and into internment camps. Ted and his family were able to escape to America where they were housed in different internment camps ran by the military. Cambodians were able to leave the camps if they could get a family to sponsor them. Ted and his family got sponsored by a church, its minister, and his family. This was able to help Ted and his family make a life for themselves in America
The Urbanworld Film Festival which ran September 23-27.
One of the writers from disappointment media worked on a film playing as part of the Dances with Films Festival, but they were not involved with the writing of this review.
By Dan Skip Allen
Martin Scorsese has been known as the gangster film director during his fifty years as a filmmaker. His first gangster film was Mean Streets where he started his long term relationship with collaborator Robert De Niro. As Johnny Boy, De Niro would be the kind of actor Scorsese would create time and again in future films. Goodfellas was littered with these types of wiseguys. They would come quite frequently in other films such as Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed, and most recently The Irishman. Goodfellas, though, would stand out decades later as one of the most groundbreaking achievements in film history and among Scorsese's filmography.
When talking about great films such as Goodfellas one has to point to the things that Scorsese does that are now commonplace in the business of movie-making. One thing that comes to mind that is a terrific achievement is the tracking shot where Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Karen (Lorraine Bracco) are walking through the Copacabana nightclub to the music of The Crystals, "And Then He Kissed Me". This was a scene unheard of before but now everybody does this with a crane looking down over the actors. The crane shot was groundbreaking in 1990 when this film came out.
Scorsese always attracts a great cast to work with him. Even his little film's he gets great performers to line up to appear. Goodfellas was no different. Of course, his usual cast of characters would be cast in the starring roles. Such as Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Frank Vincent. The stand out in this great film was Ray Liotta though. He embodied Henry Hill in this film. The scene where he is high on cocaine and he is going back and forth getting the bag of guns and he noticed the helicopter was following him. He was "Shoeless" Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams but Goodfellas was his breakout role — the role he'll be remembered for the rest of his life. Scorsese always can get the most out of his actors.
Scorsese likes to take real events and make them into fantastic films. Goodfellas adapts a very famous heist in history. The Lufthansa Plane heist was a real event that happened. Adapting the book from Nick Pileggi ("Wiseguy") Scorsese brought this story to life. Whereas other gangster films were fictional takes on the life, Goodfellas was ripped right from history. Of course, the names are changed for this film. The real Henry Hill was sent into the witness protection program because he turned state's evidence on his childhood and adult friends. They were like his family, as seen in a prison scene where he helped the don Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) make pasta.
As mentioned earlier De Niro has a great history with Scorsese, but Joe Pesci has a great working relationship with him as well. As Tommy Devito, he gives a great performance and delivers one of the best scenes in film history. When he jokes with Hill and says what's so funny and then shoots Spider played by Michael Imperioli. It's no coincidence that the creators of The Sopranos scooped up a bunch of the cast of Goodfellas for their terrific show on HBO. Bracco is great alongside Liotta as well, getting an Oscar nomination. Pesce was the only win though for the film.
Obviously, The Godfather films are considered the creme de la creme of gangster films. Goodfellas is a top three gangster film though. It has groundbreaking filmmaking by Martin Scorsese, great acting by a stellar cast of actors, and a very well adapted screenplay from Scorsese and Pileggi of a true heist in American history. Thirty years ago this film was considered one of the best of the year. It stands up as one of the best ever and one of Scorsese's best as well. The realistic nature of the story and frantic filmmaking at times make for an exciting and very entertaining film. In another thirty years, people will still be talking about Goodfellas, Scorsese, DeNiro, and Pesci alongside the greatest films, directors, and actors of all time. This genre never gets old for me so I can watch this film over and over again. Goodfellas is as great now as it was then in 1990.
By Dan Skip Allen
Comic book movies weren't the first genre studios were thinking of when greenlighting movies in the 1990s. Warner Brothers had success with the Batman and Superman franchises in the past, but most comic book movies up until the 2000s had been either really dark and violent like The Crow and Blade or campy and over the top like The Mask or the later Batman movies. Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Kevin Feige, and many others were really reaching when trying to produce the X-Men into a big-budget film. They proved the nay-sayers wrong.
Marvel Comics had a rough patch in the late nineties. In a way to gain capital to stay afloat, Marvel sold off the cinematic rights to some of their characters. 20th Century Fox bought the cinematic rights to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. Subsequently, they fast-tracked the first X-Men movie. Donner and company enlisted the talents of Brian Singer, who gained acclaim for directing the critically and financially successful The Usual Suspects in 1995 and Apt Pupil in 1998. He was a hot commodity at the time. He was the right man for the job. Little did anybody know he had a love and passion for these characters for many years growing up as a kid.
He took that love and passion and started working on the story and then cast his first epic comic book movie based on these popular comic book characters. The casting process wasn't hard except casting Wolverine/Logan. A lot of Hollywood stars wanted to be in this first big comic book extravaganza. Heavyweights like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and Halle Berry all signed on as well as Oscar-winner Anna Paquin. Dougray Scott was originally cast as Wolverine/Logan until he dropped out to do Mission: Impossible 2 for John Woo. The search was on to find another Wolverine/Logan. Little did anybody know the search would end with Broadway star and song & dance man Hugh Jackman. Nobody outside of Broadway circles ever heard of him. In an era before the internet, this still raised a lot of eyebrows in fan communities. Comic book fanboys have always been critical of strange casting news such as this, going back many years. Hugh Jackman would prove everybody wrong though and he would become Wolverine/Logan and own this character in multiple X-Men and Wolverine movies moving forward. The X-Men were finally coming to the big screen in 2000.
Despite falling back on the dark costumes trope that has been shoehorned into so many comic book movies in the past, X-Men actually turned out very good and was a huge success financially and with fans. Magneto (Ian McKellan) had a plan to make everyone see that mutants should rule and humans should bow at their feet. His brotherhood, Mystique (Rebecca Roman), Sabretooth (Tyler Maine) & Toad (Ray Park) are his loyal acolytes and they help him try to accomplish his plan. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) tries to recruit a new mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin), but she has her own bodyguard in the form of Logan (Hugh Jackman). They are leary of Xavier and his group of misfits that include Cyclops (James Marsden), Jean Grey (Famke Jansen), Storm (Halle Berry), and many others. The X-Men dealt with social issues going back decades in the comics. It makes sense that these issues were brought into the movies. Problems between humans and mutants have been the driving force in the comics and Singer brings them to the forefront in the first X-Men movie.
Donner, Singer, and the entire cast and crew of X-Men have successfully made a comic book movie for the masses. It still stands up twenty years later. After countless dozens of comic book movies including many Spider-Man, MCU, and DCEU movies have followed, X-Men was the first that really got it right. This film paved the way for all those other films to come. X-Men used great acting, production design, story, and direction from Singer to make a great film. X-Men was very enjoyable for me and I was in from the very beginning of this film. I know I wasn't the only one. Many of my friends loved it as well. In that group, I know it was a success because they weren't the easiest people to please. I hope Marvel and Disney take these characters and bring them into the MCU and fans get to see the next iteration of these iconic characters Hugh Jackman and crew made famous twenty years ago this week.
By Dan Skip Allen
The '80s and '90s were full of campy comic book movies. Filmmakers and studios still hadn't figured out how to make great comic book movies yet. Yes, there was the occasional Batman, The Crow, or Blade to speak of, but mostly these films were overcooked with campiness and colors or just plain darkness and shadows. They overcompensated on the actual comics themselves.
Dick Tracy is meant to be a campy, colorful movie. It's based on the comic strip of the same name and later animated TV show. It's full of colorful characters like Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman), Flattop (William Forsythe), Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino), Prune Face, and The Brow. The streets and buildings are also very colorful and fit this movie. Even though it's set in a world full of gangsters and guns in the 1950s, it is all a big exaggeration. It's not meant to be taken too seriously. All of this adds to the overall feel of this campy comic strip turned big-budget summer blockbuster.
Warren Beatty has made a big name for himself over the decades. He's been nominated for Oscars and won one for directing Reds. He dabbled a bit in this genre before with Bonnie & Clyde in 1967. So he was right at home starring and directing in the period piece based on the famous comic strip of the same name. He is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the cast goes. He assembled an all-star cast that includes cameos by James Caan, Dick Van Dyke, Mandy Patinkin, Charles Durning, and Michael Pollard. This entire cast is terrific in the film. It's really cool to pick out all these great actors from scene to scene.
Madonna, of course, is not only known as one of the greatest pop singers of her generation but of all time. She is in a long line of singers-turned-actors over the decades. She might have been perfectly cast though as Breathless Mahoney. She has an aloof nature to her character. She's a woman who has a dark side to her. She the classic femme fatale we have seen in plenty of Hollywood films in the past — the perfect character for this kind of film. Dick is a man torn between his job and the lady he loves, but Breathless doesn't make his life any easier with her advances on him. She's dressed beautifully as well. Along with all the other actors in the film, her outfits were made by costumer Milena Canonero. Madonna also performed the original song "Sooner or Later" that won William Sondheim an Oscar for Best Original Song. He did all the musical numbers in the film.
Even though the sets and costumes are all colorful and bright, it doesn't mean the story is all light and fluffy. It's not! It's like plenty of gangster films before. It has a great script helped by the creator of the comic strip Chester Could, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. There is a lot of violence, explosions, and death in the film. It has a classic film noir nature to it. The story had some great twists and turns in it. Everything is in place to make a fun summer blockbuster. And that's what Dick Tracy was.
There were so many great pieces that came together to make Dick Tracy a memorable film. Even thirty years later it still stands up. The time it came out has nothing on the time it was set. Warren Beatty put all the pieces together to go back in time to this fictional world set in reality. WB knew what they had and ran with it. The acting and everything else was terrific. This film really played homage to the classic comic strip and to the movie of the time it came in 1990. I still love this film thirty years later.
By Dan Skip Allen
Mel Gibson made his name in the 1980s with mainstream hits like the Lethal Weapon franchise and the Mad Max films. In the 1990s, he made the greatest film of his career when he chose to direct and star in Braveheart. Braveheart came out in 1995 and won Gibson his first and second Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director respectively. He would never reach such heights as a filmmaker or actor ever again. He would be ostracized from Hollywood after a drunken tirade, but would later be accepted again when he directed the WWII epic Hacksaw Ridge, albeit not to the same level.
William Wallace (Mel Gibson) sees that his father and brother have died when they don't come home from war with England. After their funeral, his uncle Argyle Wallace (Brian Cox) comes to take him away from his home in the Scottish hills. Later he comes back home to be a farmer and ends up rekindling a friendship he had when he was a kid with a beautiful young woman, Murron (Catherine McCormack). This ends up getting him into a scuffle with English soldiers, which starts off a new war with England and King Edward I. William Wallace would end up becoming the leader of a Scottish revolution on the English rulers. This war would be a bloody violent war, and Gibson didn't hold back on the blood and gore in this epic.
Historical movies can be sentimental, but inspiring. They usually have some good performances such as Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, and Ben Kingsley in Gandhi. Rarely do you see a director/actor combination such as Braveheart. Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven come to mind as two of the only other exceptions. Both won Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood the Academy Awards for their respective films. What elevates Braveheart to a different level is that it has a great performance from Mel Gibson that is arguably one of the greatest of all time. Famous quotes like "Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take away our lives, but they'll never take our freedom," are truly iconic.
Along with the great performance from Mel Gibson, many other performances help rank this film among the greatest of all time. Sophie Marceau, Angus Macfadyen, Patrick McGoohan, James Cosmo, and Brendan Gleeson are all great. The epic battle scenes also make Braveheart one of the greatest war films as well as period piece films. There is not much CGI in Braveheart, but the beautiful hills of Scotland lend themselves to some breathtaking cinematography from Jon Toll.
As far as epics go, Braveheart is in the conversation as one of the greatest of all time. Spartacus, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and Gladiator are the ones I think of when great epics are brought up in conversation. Epics are like bigger than life films. Braveheart is the biggest of the big. It has a level that dwarfs almost every other film. Add in the great performance from Gibson and you have one for the ages. Remembering this film twenty-five years later brings back nostalgia on why it's such a great film. It stands the test of time. Even fifty or a hundred years from now, Braveheart will stand up as one of the greatest of all time.
By Dan Skip Allen
Coming off of Star Wars, George Lucas, had to do something out of this world with the sequel. He did that and more, introducing some new and interesting characters such as Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett, and Yoda helped make it very different. New music from John Williams proved he was one of the greats already. The huge twist at the end makes it one of the all-time great films. Forty years seems just like yesterday to me. Where has the time gone?
Star Wars was a passion for me as a kid and The Empire Strikes Back hit me as not many films have before or since. I owed all the toys at one point when I was very young. The thing is I never saw Star Wars in the theater. I saw it on HBO when I was 6 — the same age I saw The Empire Strikes Back in a theater. So this sequel had that much more relevance to me. It hit home for me much more that way. Seeing that twist for the first time was like getting a punch to the gut. I have had my share of issues with my father of the years. That moment was just unbelievable to me. How could the evilest guy in the galaxy be the hero's father? No way could happen, but it did.
One among many things I love about Star Wars is the seedy side of a galaxy far far away. And the Mos Eisley Cantina. It was like eye candy to me because of all the strange and exotic characters. I would later learn about these aliens from reading books about them. When those four crazy bounty hunters showed up in Empire, I felt the need to know more about them as well. Of course Boba Fett rose to be one of my favorite characters in the whole franchise. He had so much mystery about him back then. His story has since been expanded upon in years later.
Yoda was a very different character for me because he was this little green guy in a swamp. I was a huge fan of his early on, but as years have gone by I have had more respect for those training scenes. "Do or do not", and "That is why you fail" are some great quotes that I remember. He grew on me. Coaches and mentors don't always have to be your friend to prepare you for what you need to do in your life. They do need your respect in the end.
John Williams has been my favorite conductor ever since I was a little kid. I grew up watching him conduct the Boston Pops for many years. He created music for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course Star Wars. He had to do something great for Empire to live up to those other three films. He did just that with "Imperial March". I knew something bad was about to happen when that music came up. Usually escorting Dark Vader on screen. It was such menacing music. I can't recall any movie villain having such great music to accompany them on screen.
In a film with so much darkness there is a glimmer of hope and happiness. Even though it happens on the ice planet of both. Han and Leia have a love-hate relationship when he's not being called a "scruffy-looking nerf herder" by her that is. The scene where she finally professes her love to him is one of the greatest scenes in movie history. "I love You, I know" is such a powerful moment in the film because Han is about to go into carbonite freezing. She doesn't know if he'll survive, or not. It was so emotional for me as a six-year-old watching it for the first time. I am still affected by it to this day.
Nothing affected me like that twist where Darth Vader says that he's Luke's father though. Me having such issues with my father made it very difficult for me to watch. I didn't want that for Luke and I don't think anyone watching did. It just says even bad guys can have children and have family issues just like me or anyone else for that matter. Luke just wasn't ready for that encounter yet. He paid the ultimate price when he lost his hand. That moment almost caused him to go to the dark side. As we've seen in future movies he did not.
The Empire Strikes Back touches on so many great topics. Love, hate, betrayal, and innocence lost are just a few of them. Everything about this film ups the game from its predecessor. That is almost inconceivable to me. Star Wars was so great but The Empire Strikes Back stands the test of time. Forty years later it holds up like no other film. The music and special effects are all first-rate as well. There are rarely any films that have the impact that this one does on society. Even though it's a sequel, it stands on its own as an achievement in filmmaking. I can't say enough how much this film means to me. Even forty years after I saw it for the first time.
By Dan Skip Allen
Ridley Scott admittedly has had his ups and downs in his career. The ups are starting the Alien franchise, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Down, and The Martian. The downs... they don't need to be mentioned, but lately, they are more prevalent than the ups. Arguably, Gladiator starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed (in his last role), and Djimon Hounsou, is the greatest achievement in his career to date.
Gladiator came out twenty years ago at the turn of the century. It started a new trend of the summer event films. Now, all the big blockbusters plant their flags during the summer, trying to find that exact date to capitalize the most on all those summer dollars to be had. Gladiator was a very beloved film come awards season, especially for a summer film. Winning five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, cemented it as one of the greatest films of all time.
Russell Crowe's career had a great rise in the decade of the 1990s with roles in LA Confidential, Mystery Alaska, and The Insider. His career entered the stratosphere in the decade of the 2000s, though. The role of Maximus won him in an Academy Award in 2001 and launched him into superstardom. Maximus is the epitome of what it is to be a leader, fighter, and a ruler, but all that was taken away from him when Markus Aurelius and his family were slain in cold blood. After that, followed A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander, Cinderella Man, and American Gangster. His career is as varied as the roles he has chosen. Comedies, dramas, action films, and biopics litter his filmography, but Maximus in Gladiator will always be the role I will look back on as the best of his best.
Joaquin Phoenix has some small roles in a few films in the '90s, but it wasn't until he portrayed Commodus in Gladiator did his film career take off. He received an Academy Award nomination for this role. He played this character as a conniving backstabber and a sniveling weasel of a man. He was meant to be hated by the viewer, which made him that much more enjoyable to watch on the big screen. Roles in Walk the Line, Her, and The Master, would cement him as one of the best actors of his generation. Eventually, he would finally win his long sought after Academy Award in 2019 for his performance in Joker.
Gladiator stands the test of time because of its story which is basically a Shakespearean tale set in the era of the Roman Empire. Great performances by the entire cast thrust it into the discussion as one of the greatest films of all time. The visual effects, sound quality, and production design are some of the best in any film before or since. This film is like a throwback to the sword & sandal films of the past, such as Spartacus, Ben-Hur, and The Ten Commandments, all films that stood the test of time. Viewers could really get behind this epic film with this phenomenal story. This is arguably the best film of the 21st century. Twenty years later, it still stands up as one of the greatest films of all time.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.