Growing up with Star Wars

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I’ve mentioned before that when I was at first school, most of my friends wanted to be Sandy in Grease, but I wanted to be Princess Leia.  I even got my Mum to put my hair in Leia-type hairdo’s, involving plaits mostly.  The boys let me play as none of them wanted to be Leia.  They were too busy arguing over who was Han and who was Luke…..and Chewie and the droids.

Iconic scene from Star Wars: Luke on Tatooine

Any child born, or growing up, in the 70’s would literally have to have been from another planet if they had not at least seen, what is, the most famous movie saga in the world.  That instantly recognisable operatic movie score from John Williams.  The closest anything else has come to Star Wars is Harry Potter, but that is for another post.

Star Wars: The Millennium Falcon

When George Lucas wrote Star Wars, he was writing a space adventure for children to enjoy.  He never envisaged it would reach such stratospheric levels of fandom, love and devotion. He says he was inspired by westerns, the old-fashioned good vs. evil and that good always wins in the end.

The Empire Strikes Back: Luke and Yoda

I remember my brothers collecting the Star Wars spaceships and figures.  I was bought My Little Pony and Barbie, which utterly bored me.  I was forever playing with Lego and Star Wars toys when I wasn’t riding my bike, or climbing trees.  I was a little tomboy.  Hence my admiration for Princess Leia.  I loved the scene in Return of the Jedi when she leaps on a speeder bike in pursuit of a biker scout, for example.  She didn’t wait for the boys to deal with the dilemma/problem.

That ending. Gulp….

I was 8 when I saw the Empire Strikes Back (the same year I saw ET) and I remember crying when Han got frozen, confusion at that paternity revelation and the ending.  It couldn’t end like that, could it?  As an adult, Empire is my favourite of the trilogy.  It is the operatic, dark, second act.  However, back to my childhood, I was relieved when good won out in Jedi and loved the cute ewoks, but my brothers found them annoying.  However, the boys got Leia in a gold bikini so they shouldn’t complain.

Return of the Jedi

My teens, which I hated, came and went.  In my early 20’s the trilogy was rereleased at cinemas ahead of the new prequel, The Phantom Menace.  I had never seen the films at the cinema as I was only 2 when Star Wars came out.  I dragged one of my best friends along and after seeing Star Wars, she really looked forward to the next two films.  Seeing certain scenes such as the X-Wing attack on the Death Star, Hoth, Cloud City and the speeder bike chase on Endor was amazing.  To a child, this would be pure cinematic magic.

Wicket. Cute.

So, in 1999, the day tickets went on sale for The Phantom Menace, I got up early and booked tickets for myself and two best friends for the first showing.  On the day, queues were going round the block and people were offering three or four times the price for a ticket, but nobody was selling.  There was an air of hushed excitement when we all filed in, which I’ve never experienced before in a cinema………it was all for nothing.  It just didn’t have the charm, or magic.  The best thing Star Wars-related that year was Simon Pegg’s episode of Spaced called ‘Chaos’.  Simon Pegg is another huge fan of the trilogy.

Mace Windu. Bad-Ass Jedi. Purple Lightsaber.

I dutifully watched Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, hoping things would improve, the latter film being the best of the prequels.  I feel sorry for Jake Lloyd who copped all the flak.  He was just a kid.  Lucas should have cast an older Anakin and Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman (forgiven because of Black Swan) were wooden and awful.  Then there was the awful Jar-Jar Binks….. There were a few good scenes and glimpses of what could have been, in all three movies.  Ewan McGregor hit his stride as Obi Wan in Clones and Revenge.  Darth Maul was the best thing in Phantom.  Mace Windu was the best thing about the whole trilogy.  Too cool for Jedi school.

Episode VII Cast Meeting

Anyway, onwards and upwards.  My 5 year old is now Star Wars obsessed.  Star Wars is his world.  Luke Skywalker is awesome and my son wants to be a Jedi when he grows up, alongside acting, directing and winning the Tour de France. Of course.  He will be 7 when Episode VII is released in December 2015.  I cannot wait to take him to the cinema, along with my husband, my brothers and nephews.  This is a film with huge expectations, build-up and excitement, much like Christmas.  I have every faith in JJ Abrams being the man for the job.  I think the force is strong in this one.

Images: IMDb

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The 90’s: The Shawshank Redemption

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The Shawshank Redemption regularly tops favourite and greatest film movie polls.  The film was only released in 1994, but it feels like it’s been around forever.  It didn’t perform well initially, although it only opened as a limited release.  When it was rereleased in 1995 because the film was nominated for seven Oscars (which, the film should have won IMO) the film performed much better at the box office.  Like many other brilliant films though (The Bourne Identity being a good example), The Shawshank Redemption came into it’s own when it was released on vhs, fast becoming a much loved movie.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

A story by Stephen King, adapted into a screenplay and directed by Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption is a modern classic.  Set in 1947, it tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who is imprisoned in the notorious Shawshank Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover.  Andy maintains he is innocent, much to the bemusement of other inmates. The story is about this, but mainly about the improbable friendship that develops between Andy and Red, a ‘lifer’, played delightfully by Morgan Freeman.  Shawshank also focuses on the rather grim side of prison life and how Andy copes with it.

There are so many memorable moments in this movie, like when gentle prison librarian, Brooks, gets parole, but on returning to the outside world, he cannot cope with it.  Memorable moments in films are not always happy.  We need to remember that prisoners are human beings too.

Brooks

Then there is the quote below from my favourite scene in the movie, where Andy plays the Marriage of Figaro through the PA so the whole prison hears it.

Red: [narrating] I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.

Red and the other inmates

Why do fans (including myself) love this film so much?  Shawshank makes you feel sad, happy, angry, uplifted…..so many emotions throughout.  It’s an old-fashioned story about finding hope in a hopeless place.  The cast are fabulous and, for those who have seen it, you’ll know what I mean when I say, what an ending! To describe the ending in any way for anybody who has not watched Shawshank, would ruin it.  You need to watch this film with an open mind and enjoy it……

Andy: Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Andy and Red

Trivia:

Of all the brilliant work he has done, this is Morgan Freeman’s favourite film

Rob Reiner wanted to direct, with Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise as Red and Andy.  Thankfully Frank Darabont decided he would direct.  I don’t feel the movie would have been the same without Tim and Morgan in those roles.  You believe this friendship is real and that is the heart of this film.

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

Lost in Translation

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I love Sofia Coppola.  She is one of my favourite directors.  In a sea of male directors, Sofia has become well respected in her profession.  Sofia has, like many brilliant directors, her own style that is instantly recognisable.  You know you are watching one of her films.

Lost in Translation

As visually beautiful as Ms Coppola’s films are, I love her focus on her characters too.  Of all her work, I think, personally, this is truest in the exemplary Lost in Translation.

Charlotte, Lost in Translation

Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen, and set in Tokyo, this has a winning formula from the start.

Two bored and lonely individuals, Charlotte, newly married and pottering about in the hotel she is staying in whilst her husband (a photographer, played by Giovanni Ribisi) goes off to work, and Bob, an ageing action movie star staying in Tokyo to film a commercial, form an unlikely friendship.  They set about exploring Tokyo and turning their time there into an adventure, whilst getting to know one another.

Bob:  It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids.

Charlotte:  It’s scary.

Bob: The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born.

Charlotte:  Nobody ever tells you that.

Bob:  Your life, as you know it…is gone.  Never to return.  But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk…and you want to be with them.  And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.

Charlotte:  That’s nice.

I love seeing Scarlett in a non-sexpot role for a change.  She is a great actress and gets to show this through Charlotte.  I love Bill Murray as a comic actor, but he is wonderful as Bob, bringing a vulnerability and sensitivity to him, proving what a great serious actor Bill is too.

There are some truly touching moments in the film, none more so than the ending, which is not clichéd either.

Lost in Translation is essentially a non-traditional love story. A non-chick flick, chick flick for the more discerning film lover.

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Lost in Translation: 2003

Images: IMDb

Iron Man

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Not one of the most popular comic books out there, this was a harder sell to the studios, hence this didn’t hit cinemas until 2008.  Director, Jon Favreau, had a tough time fighting the corner for Robert Downey Junior who he felt had polarities with the character of Tony Stark.  In fact, Hugh Jackman was offered the role of Tony Stark, but he turned it down because he was Wolverine in the X-Men franchise.  Thank goodness Jon Favreau saw what the studio couldn’t and the fans loved Iron Man.

Tony Stark. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist.

Billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.  This line is actually from Avengers Assemble, uttered by Tony Stark, but it sums him up, or at least his public persona.  Only an actor of Robert Downey Junior’s calibre could stop Tony Stark from being a joke, or an utter asshole.  Don’t get me wrong, Tony is an arrogant playboy, but RDJ gives him a vulnerability and he is so damn likeable!  In Favreau’s words, Tony Stark is “a likeable asshole”.

Tony with friend, Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard)

Stark Industries, set up by Tony’s inventor father, Howard Stark, creates weapons of mass destruction.  When Tony’s involvement in the arms industry bites him back, in a life-threatening way, Iron Man is created out of the need to survive.  Tony up to this point had only really been a figurehead, enjoying the benefits of the money the company makes, whilst Obadiah Stane, a father figure to Tony (played by Jeff Bridges) had been running the show.

Tony with Obadiah Stane

Iron Man, Tony Stark

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Stark’s PA, Pepper Potts. The only person who realises the cocky persona is an act at times.  The chemistry between RDJ and Gwyneth is pretty good and Pepper is also a likeable character.  Pepper is definitely more than a pretty face and Tony needs her more than he realises.

Pepper Potts with Tony

Quote:

Pepper: [after Stark’s one night stand with reporter, Christine] I have your clothes here; they’ve been dry cleaned and pressed. And there’s a car waiting for you outside that will take you anywhere you’d like to go.

Christine: You must be the famous Pepper Potts.

Pepper: [smiles and nods] Indeed I am.

Christine: After all these years, Tony still has you picking up the dry cleaning.

Pepper: I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally taking out the trash. Will that be all?

Pepper discovers, with the help of S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Phil Coulson, that an insider is selling Stark Industries weapons to terrorists.  The film thus cleverly introducing S.H.I.E.L.D and the Avengers Initiative.

Iron Man

If you want a fun, fast-paced action movie with likeable leads, witty dialogue and no coloured spandex (although I personally am a fan of Spiderman and X-Men too), this is the superhero film to watch……and did I mention, Robert Downey Junior is in it?

Trivia:

The creator of Iron Man, Stan Lee, based Tony Stark on Howard Hughes

RDJ trained with weights 5 days a week and practiced martial arts in preparation for the role

Gwyneth based Pepper on heroines of the 1940’s who she said were often witty and sexy

A lot of adlibbing was done by RDJ because Jon Favreau wanted a more natural feel.  This clearly worked well for the film and RDJ is particularly good at this, however, Gwyneth (allegedly) struggled with this approach

Amelie

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Amelie is a delightful french fancy of a film that leaves you feeling wonderful and ready to don your ballet pumps and pack your chic leather weekend bag, bound for Paris.  If you like romance, but want sophistication with it, Amelie is the sweet Laduree macaron of the chick flicks.

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this 2001 film did very well for a French movie.  There are many fantastic french films, but not that many are commercially successful in the uk (sadly), however, Amelie was.

This was the film that made the beautiful Audrey Tautou a star.

Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tautou)

Amelie Poulain views life through rose-tinted glasses and lives in a fantastical world.  As a child, she was home-schooled and not allowed to play with other children because her parents believed she had a heart defect.

Amelie overlooking Paris

Her mother dies in a freak accident and her father withdraws from the world, caring more about his garden gnome than his daughter who clearly needs him. Amelie moves to an apartment in the Montmartre and works in a cafe as a waitress.

Amelie discovers a box of childhood memorabilia, that had been hidden by a little boy who lived in her apartment years before her.  She decides that she wishes to find the owner of the box and whilst doing so, she wishes to help enrich the lives of those around her. Whilst helping others, she is not addressing her own loneliness and need for love.  Amelie finds the little boy, now grown up (Nino, played by Matthieu Kassovitz) who hid the box and falls in love with him, but is not prepared to confront or act on her feelings.

Audrey Tautou is a joy in this film and never makes Amelie cloyingly sweet, annoying or stupid.  Some people dislike the way Jeunet shows Paris, in such a beautiful light. I disagree with the naysayers.  Jeunet is simply showing Paris through Amelie’s eyes.  She wants to see the good in everyone and in her surroundings and that is good enough for me.

Amelie watches Nino (Matthieu Kassovitz)

If you have never watched a foreign/subtitled film before, Amelie is a good film to start with.  For me personally, if a story is good then I don’t see the subtitles after the first ten minutes and I’m engrossed.  A beautiful feel good movie for anyone who enjoys a quirky romantic movie, or who has been, or wishes to go to Paris.

Trivia:

The main colours in the film (green, yellow and red) are inspired by the paintings of the Brazilian artist Juarez Machado

British actress, Emily Watson, was offered the role of Amelie.  In fact the role was specifically written for her, but she declined as she does not speak French

Jean-Pierre Jeunet often portrays children as orphans in his films

Amelie works in a cafe called Les Deux Moulins.  This cafe really does exist in Paris.

LA Confidential

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“Come to Los Angeles! The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. There are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside every house, a happy, all-American family. You can have all this, and who knows… you could even be discovered, become a movie star… or at least see one. Life is good in Los Angeles… it’s paradise on Earth.” Ha ha ha ha. That’s what they tell you, anyway.” Sid Hudgens – LA Confidential

LA Confidential was a story written by author James Ellroy in 1990 and it was adapted into a movie in 1997.  I was late to the party in watching the film.  I don’t think I saw it until a few years ago, but wow, it is a film worth waiting for.

I knew the synopsis of the story and was fairly neutral on my thoughts towards the film, which is,sometimes, the best way to be.

LA Confidential is film noir in style and tone.  The plot, without ruining it for newbies, revolves around a homicide in a diner, which is not as cut and dried as it first appears and leads to the seedy underbelly of LA.  It is not pretentious, it does not need to try and be clever….it is clever.

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The costumes, set designs, music and locations are perfect, the plot is gripping, but it’s the cast that pulls this film together.  Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe are not playing quintessential heroes, in fact they are pretty unlikeable characters, on the face of things, but you end up rooting for them.  There is a buzz/chemistry, call it what you will, that is bouncing off the cast. Everyone is at the top of their game.

Kim Basinger won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this movie and quite rightly so.  Her understated portrayal of Lynn Bracken, a woman who has seen her LA dreams of acting take a different career path, gives the film it’s emotional centre.

Unsinkable?

Russell Crowe’s career flew to a whole new stratospheric level on the basis of his turn as rough cop with a heart, Bud White, rightly so.  Guy Pearce, as Ed Exley, trying so hard to climb the career ladder that he pisses everybody off.  Kevin Spacey as Detective Jack Vincennes, smooth, friends with everybody, but underhanded and sneaky.

In short, if you love a good thriller, you need to watch this movie.  LA Confidential is in my top ten movies.  It is Hollywood at it’s best.

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LA Confidential Trivia:

Many of the events in the film were in fact based on real life events

Russell Crowe got the part of Bud White on the strength of his performance in Romper Stomper

Kevin Spacey’s character, Jack Vincennes, was based loosely on Dean Martin

The Director, Curtis Hanson, said that Kim Basinger was the first and only choice for the role of Lynn Bracken

Images: IMDb