Empire of the Sun

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Empire of the Sun.  Number 21 on my list of 100 greatest movies.  My grandfather was an American pilot who died in the Second World War and this post is for him and everybody else who gave their lives to fight for peace and freedom.  Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, so I thought today’s post should be about a Second World War film.  We all have a lot to be thankful for today.

What is it I like about this film?  Apart from being utterly beautiful, in terms of cinematography, it’s about people and how they adapt/survive in awful circumstances.  The protagonist in this film being a schoolboy, Jamie Graham.

Opening line of narration:  “In 1941 China and Japan had been in a state of undeclared war for four years. A Japanese army of occupation was in control of much of the countryside and many towns and cities. In Shanghai thousands of Westerners, protected by the diplomatic security of the International Settlement, continued to live as they had lived since the British came here in the 19th century and built in the image of their own country… built banking houses, hotels, offices, churches and homes that might have been uprooted from Liverpool or Surrey. Now their time was running out. Outside Shanghai the Japanese dug in and waited… for Pearl Harbour.”

Jamie lives a privileged existence with his British parents in colonial Shanghai.  Other than attending his prep school, he spends no time outside his grand home, or knows of any Chinese culture.  He is also rude to the Chinese servants.

Jamie loves aeroplanes and dreams of joining the Japanese airforce, something his Father finds rather disturbing.

When the Japanese occupy Shanghai, Jamie is in the car with his Mother and the streets fill with scared and fleeing locals.  The car gets swamped so they have to get out.  Jamie drops his toy plane and lets go of his mother’s hand and they get separated.  It is pretty harrowing to watch since becoming a mother myself.

Jamie (Jim) – Empire of the Sun

Jamie meets an American, Basie (played wonderfully by John Malkovich).  Out of need for survival he teams up with him.  Basie doesn’t really have any morals as such, but Jamie soon learns this is the way of the world at war, the world completely removed from his old life.  Basie renames Jamie as ‘Jim’.

Eventually Basie and Jim end up in a PoW camp.  Jim meets the kindly Dr Rawlins (Nigel Havers) who tries to give him some purpose and normality because he realises he is quite clearly not okay after his trauma.

Jim: “I can’t remember what my parents look like.”

I don’t want to reveal any more of the story from this point on because I think if you haven’t seen this film before, it will spoil it for you.  If you cry easily, the ending will have you reaching for tissues.  Christian Bale is outstanding and the supporting cast are all brilliant too.  It is interesting to watch a Second World War movie that isn’t about Germany/Europe for a change.  Being in Europe, we can forget that it was a world war.  I don’t think Steven Spielberg would have made Schindler’s List if he hadn’t of made Empire of the Sun first.  This movie put Spielberg in the rare category of directors that can do popcorn (such as Jaws) brilliantly, but can also tell a serious story too.

Jim in the PoW camp where he befriends a Japanese pilot

Trivia:  There is a scene where Jim’s parents tuck him into bed.  This is taken from a Norman Rockwell painting entitled “Freedom from Fear”.  Jim’s father is even holding a newspaper like the father in the painting.  The only difference is, in the painting there are two children.

Images: IMDb

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My Movie Heroines

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There is always talk that there is a lack of role models/heroines/strong women in movies for young girls and women to look up to.  I disagree.  I made this list pretty quickly.  Male heroes are more ‘trumped up’ and we hear more about them, but it doesn’t make the heroines that exist less valid.  My list is compiled of my personal movie heroines, it is not complete and there are more I could add, but my post would be too long if I did.  I have made my list starting from the bottom.  I hope you enjoy reading and let me know in the comments section who your favourite movie heroine is and why!

18.  Roberta Waterbury – The Railway Children

Roberta (third from left) – The Railway Children

Selfless.  Risks her own life to stop a train from crashing.  Thinks quickly and calmly in an emergency.  Smart girl.

17.  Iris Henderson – The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Iris (2nd from left) – The Lady Vanishes

Persistent.  Can’t be fobbed off.  Whilst everybody tries to brush Iris off as a delusional and hysterical girl, she perseveres in finding the missing Miss Froy, with, or without help.  The recent tv version made Iris look like a hysterical girl.  Not impressed.

16.  Lola – Run Lola Run

Lola – Run Lola Run

Calm in a crisis.  Brave.  Quick on her feet.  Funky hair.  Lola is literally running to save her man’s life.  Refreshing for the girl to be the one saving the guy.

15.  Tiffany – Silver Linings Playbook

Tiffany – Silver Linings Playbook

Straight-talking.  Smart.  Funny.  Doesn’t put up with anyone being rude to her.  She knows a wounded soul when she sees one….because she is one too.  She saves Pat from himself and helps him find true love, not the fake love he thought he needed.

14.  Jo March – Little Women

Jo March – Little Women

Clever. Bookish.  Stubborn.  Free-spirited.  Ambitious.  She does not want to be shackled by what is seen as proper and right for a young woman in the time she lives in.  She wants to do her own thing and pursue her dream.

13.  Clarice Starling – The Silence of the Lambs

Clarice Starling – Silence of the Lambs

Intelligent.  Calm.  Doesn’t scare easily.  In a ‘man’s job’.  It wasn’t that long ago when there weren’t many women in the FBI.  Dealt with Hannibal Lector when others couldn’t.

12.  Mattie Ross – True Grit

Mattie Ross – True Grit

Brave young girl.  Living in an unforgiving time, which was not kind to children or women.  Seeks justice for her family and will not give up until she gets it.

11.  Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games

Protective.  Kind.  Athletic.  Smart.  Takes her little sister’s place in the games to protect her.  Very handy with a bow and arrow.

10.  Sarah Connor – Terminator 2

Sarah Connor – Terminator 2

Athletic.  Tough.  Calm.  Trains until she could join the marines because she’s so tough.  All to protect her son and try and save mankind in the future.

9.  Black Widow – Avengers Assemble

Black Widow – Avengers

Kick-Ass.  Unflappable.  Daredevil.  Can hold her own in the Avengers/SHIELD environment.  Not impressed by all the testosterone flying around.

8.  The Bride/Beatrix Kiddo – Kill Bill

The Bride – Kill Bill

Strong.  Kick-Ass.  Intelligent.  Persistent.  She will not stop until she has taken vengeance against Bill and his assassins who murdered her unborn child and left her for dead, on her wedding day.  Besides, she makes a yellow tracksuit look cool.

7.  Hit Girl – Kick Ass

Hit Girl – Kick Ass

Small.  Mouthy (erm, one word springs to mind). Kick-Ass. Brave.  Vigilante.  Hit Girl proves that size certainly does not matter and holds her own against so called tough guys/villains.

6.  Ellen Ripley – Aliens

Ellen Ripley – Aliens

Protective.  Maternal.  Brave.  Strong.  Intelligent.  I mean, come on, have you seen the films?  Look what Ripley was up against. One cool lady.

5.  Mystique – X-Men series

Mystique – X-Men

Blue.  Kick-Ass.  Strong.  Loyal.  Knows what she wants.  No pushover.  I love that Mystique (after First Class) is comfortable in her own skin.  She doesn’t see why she should have to conform to a certain look and feels she should be accepted for who she is.  I love that.  Very relevant to young girls who think there is only one acceptable body shape, thanks to the media.

4.  Eowyn – Lord of the Rings

Eowyn – Lord of the Rings

Still waters……  Does not sit on the sidelines.  Brave.  Eowyn is a brilliant swordswoman.  She wants the chance to fight for her land and people, just as the men do.  Disguises as a man and manages to enter the battlefield.  Kills the Witch-King.

The Witch-King: “No man may kill me!”

Eowyn: “I am no man!”

3.  Violette Szabo – Carve her name with Pride

Violet Szabo – Carve Her Name with Pride

Intelligent.  Brave.  Calm.  Fluent in French.  Worked as a special ops agent for the British during the second world war. During her second mission, she got captured, was tortured and interrogated before being executed.  Amazing lady and this was a true story.

2.  Hermione Granger – Harry Potter series

Hermione Granger – Harry Potter

Studious.  Bookish.  Intelligent.  Extremely Polite.  Caring.  Amazing witch.  Most loyal friend ever.  For young girls, Hermione is a brilliant character to look up to.  She knows her education and studying are important, she does what is right and she stands by her friends.

“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery and — oh Harry — be careful!”

1.  Princess Leia – Star Wars saga

Princess Leia – Star Wars

Regal.  Witty.  Clever.  Handy with a blaster and speeder bike. Calm.  Han Solo-snaring.  There weren’t many heroines in films when I was little that would have made this list.  There were too many princesses of the Disney type, or screaming bimbos.  Princess Leia is the first one that made an impression on me.  I like the way she spoke and handled herself.

Leia:  “Somebody has to save our skins……into the garbage chute fly-boy!”

 

Images: IMDb

Movies, Memories and Childhood: Part III, Teen Years

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Teens.  Mean girls.  High school.  Eugh.  These films are not necessarily favourites, but they are great films from my teen years.  Looking back, in my last couple of years at school, I looked a little bit like Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice…..black hat, plum-coloured hair, black leggings, tartan mini skirt, black tunic, dark purple lipstick, black eyeliner……

Heathers (1988)

Heathers

Deliciously, darkly funny.  Heathers stars Winona Ryder and Christian Slater at their best.  A tale of two outcasts, JD and Veronica.  Veronica is desperate to fit in with the popular girls, who are actually bullies and secretly despised, but she hooks up with JD who has another plan for the girls, all three girls are called Heather.  This is Mean Girls Goes Dark, except this came out before Mean Girls so I think the latter may have been inspired by Heathers.  A film for anyone that hated high school.

Veronica (to one of the Heathers):  If everyone jumped off a cliff would you?

Heather: Probably.

 

The Lost Boys (1987)

The Lost Boys

Two brothers, Sam and Michael (Corey Haim and Jason Patric), are uprooted to Santa Carla by their newly divorced mother (played by Diane Weiss) to go and live with their grandfather.  One night at the fairground, they come across a group of outsiders with a fondness for motorcycles…..and blood.  Led by David (Kiefer Sutherland), the group turn Michael into one of them.  Corey Feldman plays one of the vampire-hunting Frog brothers.  Both the Corey’s are 80’s brilliant in this film.  I never got the fuss over Jason Patric.  Julia Roberts, I mean you!  Why would you run off with Jason Patric when your fiance was Kiefer?  If you like being frightened with some laughs thrown in too, you will like this film.  Think ‘Scream’ for the 80’s. Great soundtrack as well.

Trivia: The Lost Boys is a reference to the companions of Peter Pan who remained young.

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Cocky, clever, funny and popular kid, Ferris, decides to skip school with his girlfriend and best friend…..in a ferrari, in Chicago.  Meanwhile, Ed Rooney (the headmaster) and Ferris’s sister (played brilliantly by Jennifer Grey) are trying to catch him out.  I love this film.  I was nearly eleven when this film came out so I didn’t watch it until my teens.  This is, in my opinion, John Hughes best movie.  That and Planes, Trains & Automobiles.  Great as Matthew Broderick is as Ferris, my favourite character is Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) who, funny as he is, is quite obviously unhappy.

Grace (school secretary): Oh he’s very popular Ed.  The sportos, motorheads, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him.  They think he’s a righteous dude.

 

Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns

I love Tim Burton’s movies, although I really don’t like the first Batman film.  I think The Joker was too…jokey and then there was Vicki Vale screaming a lot.  To me, it felt like Burton was being restrained and not being true to himself.  However, Batman Returns screams Tim Burton.  It is wonderfully demented and I love it!  Gotham City never looked more gothic.  Michelle Pfeiffer steals the film as Selena Kyle/Catwoman.

Trivia: During one scene, Michelle Pfeiffer had to put a live bird in her mouth.

 

What is your favourite movie from your teens?

Images: IMDb

My Favourite Movie Soundtracks

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The soundtrack to a movie is hugely important.  It gives a movie impact by stirring the relevant emotion in the viewer.  Think of John Barry’s music for Out of Africa for example.  Here is a list of some of my favourite soundtracks, some well known, others not.

 

The Talented Mr Ripley – Various artists

Beautiful, brilliant and haunting…..just like the film, this music will get inside your head.  I love that Matt Damon and Jude Law perform on the soundtrack.  My favourite piece is a classical music piece, Italia, by Gabriel Yared. It reminds me of how I feel when I arrive in Italy on holiday.

 

The Virgin Suicides – Various Artists

Again, beautiful soundtrack.  Everything about Sophia Coppola’s films are in the little details and the soundtrack is perfect, making one think of lazy, hot summers and first love.  I adore Playground Love by Air.

 

Tron Legacy – Daft Punk

I have always liked Daft Punk so I thought it was pretty cool that Disney gave them free rein on the soundtrack.  Daft Punk have created an amazing score that could not be more perfect for this film.  Various pieces have been used for adverts, unsurprisingly.  We always listen to the whole album when driving over the San Gottard pass to get to Italy every year.  My favourite track? Two, Outlands and Disc Wars, but if you love electro then you’ll love the whole album.

 

Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet – Various Artists

The music for these two fantastic films, is key. It is quite unusual for the music to be centre stage in what are not quite musicals in the traditional sense, or Romeo & Juliet is not at least.  I love the variety of rock and pop.  My favourite tracks are I’m Kissing You by Des’ree and Diamond Dogs by Beck.

 

Hitch – Various Artists

Just like the film itself, the soundtrack is totally feel-good, I  mean, this film has Heavy D & the Boyz for goodness sake!  My favourite track is 1 Thing by Amerie.  This movie and soundtrack reminds me of a great year in my life.

 

Despicable Me (1 & 2) – Pharrell & Various Artists

What can I say?  I have two little boys who adore these films and I admit, I enjoy the soundtrack with them too.  My 5 year old knows the despicable me ‘rap’.  Best track?  Happy.  End of.  Pharrell is indeed a clever guy.

 

The Bodyguard – Whitney Houston

Now, more than ever, this soundtrack is more heartbreaking because of poor Whitney.  She was at the top of her game here and surprised everyone with how good an actress she was to boot.  I love, I Have Nothing.

 

Lord of the Rings – Howard Shore

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Sweeping and epic, like the trilogy, the Lord of the Rings soundtrack is a triumph.  Instantly recognisable, like other hugely successful film saga soundtracks, this is already a classic.  All of it is as brilliant as the three films themselves.

 

The Empire Strikes Back – John Williams

Speaking of epic sagas, John Williams score for Empire is just that.  The best track on the soundtrack is undoubtedly Finale.  Best soundtrack of the trilogy for the best film of the trilogy.  I’m not including episodes 1-3.

 

The Lost Boys – Various Artists

One of my favourite movies from my teens, this is one awesome soundtrack.  Really, no competition, best track is People are Strange by Echo & the Bunnymen.

 

Last, but not least….

When Harry Met Sally – Harry Connick Jr

I love this film.  Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal and writer, Nora Ephron (RiP), are at the top of their game.  So was Harry Connick Jr when he made this soundtrack.  Perfect songs for a movie about a couple of friends in New York trying to find true love.  My favourite track? Gotta be, It Had to be You.

 

There are so many more, too many to mention, but anything by John Williams, the fab techno soundtrack to Run, Lola, Run, Quentin Tarantino’s movies always have good music (Kill Bill a prime example), I love Danny Elfman’s quirky sound (he scores Tim Burton’s movies), Michael Ghiacchino’s score for Star Trek: Into Darkness, Alan Silvestri’s score for Avengers Assemble, the Bond movie soundtracks…..

 

images: IMDb

 

 

Movies, Memories and Childhood: Part II – Spielberg

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I was lucky growing up.  Born in the mid-70’s, all the best children and family films were enjoyed by my generation.  These films have become part of pop culture and are still much loved today.

For me, one name is synonymous with my childhood: Spielberg.  My generation grew up with Steven Spielberg’s movies.  Without sounding too much like Dawson Leary, Spielberg’s films have a magic that other directors don’t have.  I think the closest directors in creating Spielbergian magic these days would be JJ Abrams and M Night Shymalan, the latter with Signs in particular.

ET and Elliot in the famous bike scene

Certain scenes in his movies really stand out for me; in Jaws, the mother of the little boy (killed by the shark) walks up to Brody and slaps him, Brody seeing the shark…..the opening scene of Raiders and Indy shooting the assassin in the market…..in ET it’s the scene with the bicycles and the goodbye….in Empire of the Sun it’s the scene with Jim and his Mother in the crowd…..there are too many moments to name, but I remember them all.

Empire of the Sun

Some are dismissive of his work for this very reason, but how can you dismiss a director who made Empire of the Sun, War Horse, Lincoln and Schindler’s List?  Every Spielberg film has at least one truly beautiful moment.  The light, the music (by the amazing John Williams), the emotion…..Spielberg is like a magician, turning scenes into iconic cinematic moments.

The Goonies

Spielberg has also written and/or been executive producer of other childhood favourites such as, The Goonies, Gremlins and Back to the Future.  One talented guy.

More recently Steven Spielberg directed the wonderful ‘The Adventures of Tintin’.  My 5 year old loved it.  It is so good that after 10 minutes, you forget it’s animated.

Jaws

I always feel Steven Spielberg underrates himself as a director in interviews.  Being humble is a very good quality, but if I ever had the chance to tell him, I would tell him how beautiful and inspiring his films have been and how he is still inspiring the next generation of children (my son).  I hope he keeps on making wonderful films.

“I interpret my dreams one way and make a movie out of them and people see my movies and make them part of their dreams” Steven Spielberg

images: IMDb

My Favourite Movies

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So if you have been following this (2 month old) blog from the start, you will know I have loved films my whole life.  I hope the following gives you an insight into the films I like, love and/or wish I hadn’t seen!

My Top 20 Films:

The Godfather 2, LA Confidential, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Bourne Identity, The Talented Mr Ripley, The Empire Strikes Back, Casino Royale, The Fellowship of the Ring, Signs, Jaws, Cinema Paradiso, Avengers Assemble, The Goonies, Shaun of the Dead, The Terminator, Ghostbusters, Lost in Translation, The Shawshank Redemption, Black Narcissus, Sleepy Hollow

First horror film and favourite type?

I was 10 and staying at my best friend’s house.  Her teenage brother had a collection of horror films.  We watched Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves.  I had to sleep with a light on for a month afterwards.  I was easily scared then.  I prefer 70’s horror movies like The Shining, Carrie, Halloween and Rosemary’s Baby.  I also like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  I did enjoy the Ring and the first two Scream movies too.

Films that make me cry?

Oh, there’s been tons.  Schindler’s List, Born Free, Watership Down, Amelie, Beaches, Artificial Intelligence, Ben Hur, Cinema Paradiso, The Green Mile, Sense & Sensibility, The Shawshank Redemption….

AI: Artificial Intelligence. Beautiful, but sad.

Best child actor?

Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire.  Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine.  Rory Culkin in Signs and Mean Creek.  Perfect examples of actors, not stage school ‘jazz hands’ types.

Great example of a child actor: Rory Culkin

Films that make me laugh?

Trading Places, Despicable Me, Knocked Up, Bridesmaids, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, There’s Something About Mary, Paul and speaking of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, their Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and World’s End.

Shaun of the Dead

Most disappointing film?

Anticipated by so many, so many left disappointed.  The Phantom Menace.  Should have waited for The Phantom Edit.  Come on JJ Abrams, I have faith in you to restore the saga.

Jar Jar Binks. Enough said.

Best teen film?

When I was a teen; The Lost Boys, The Breakfast Club and Heathers.  I never got the fuss about Dirty Dancing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, it is fun, but I am dismayed when women say ‘it’s the best film ever’, including other genres. It’s set in the 60’s , but he had a mullet, she had a perm.  They dance.  They fall in love.  Nobody puts Baby in the corner.  More recently, I’ve enjoyed Mean Girls, Kick-Ass and Superbad.

Favourite war films?

It isn’t my favourite genre.  They’re sometimes a hard watch, but it’s important that they exist.  Schindler’s List is amazing. My favourite are; Empire of the Sun, Ice Cold in Alex and Carve Her Name with Pride.  My husband wanted me to say Apocalypse Now, but that’s his favourite.

Carve her name with pride. Heroine.

Most beautiful film?

Studio Ghibli make the most beautiful animations.  Giuseppe Tornatore’s films are stunning.  Tarantino, whether you like his films or not, always makes an amazing visual impact, on me.  For costumes, music, cast and locations;  To Catch a Thief and The Talented Mr Ripley.  Powell & Pressburger’s Black Narcissus is absolutely exquisite.  Most recently, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Stunning imagery.

Favourite thrillers?

The Talented Mr Ripley, Match Point, Shallow Grave, The Usual Suspects, A Simple Plan, No Country for Old Men and LA Confidential.

Woody Allen’s Match Point

Who are my favourite actors?

Several.  Cate Blanchett, Leonardo di Caprio, Joaquin Phoenix, Tobey Maguire, Judi Dench, Naomi Watts, Robert Downey Junior, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Lawrence, Paul Giamatti, Edward Norton, Kirsten Dunst, Scarlett Johansson and, Tom Hanks.

Paul Giamatti. Brilliant actor.

I hope you know a bit more about what I like now and most importantly, that you enjoyed reading!

images: IMDb

Movies, Memories and Childhood: Part I

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My first blog post referred to my first ‘serious’ movie as a child, the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and its impact on me.  This post is about an entirely different sort of movie and why it is special to me.

Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty

I was just over 4 years of age and my brother was 2 when my Grandma (my Father’s Mother) took us to a local independent cinema that was screening The Sleeping Beauty.  We had never been to the cinema before, but our little baby brother was fighting for his life in the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and our Grandma wanted to treat us whilst we were staying with her.

For two hours (the cinema had a proper break in the middle with an usherette selling ice-creams – superb!), we were immersed in this beautifully animated, magical story.  The film made me forget how much I was missing my Mummy (our parents were staying with our brother in the hospital) and when I would see her again.

Disney’s Maleficent

I had forgotten this memory, as if it had been locked away, but I recently bought my eldest son a Disney film and when we sat to watch it, there was a trailer for the restored version of The Sleeping Beauty. I started crying because it triggered my memory of that time that was tinged with uncertainty, even down to remembering my Grandma bringing chocolate for us in her beige leather handbag and the scent of her L’Air du Temps perfume.

I am now looking for The Sleeping Beauty on dvd.  For someone who is a self-confessed tomboy, it will be a little at odds with my film collection.  However, I don’t care because the four year old me will now always be grateful to Disney for my moment of much-needed escapism and a film that will always remind me of my beloved Grandma, who died in 1994.  If Disney does this for all sad, worried or frightened children, then they’re okay in my book.

“This is a time when we need to smile more and Hollywood movies are supposed to do that for people in difficult times.” Spielberg

images: Disney