Best Picture: Rocky

rockyThe third entry (it has been a while) into my Best Picture Oscar series is finally here with 1976’s ‘Rocky’. The first film in what has become a seven film series over the course of forty years, ‘Rocky’ has become known as one of the greatest boxing and sports films of all time and perhaps even one of the best “American dream” films that we have ever seen as well.

Written by and starring a young  Sylvester Stallone as the Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa, the film brought Stallone to worldwide prominence in a role that has gone on to shape his career and also become a cultural phenomenon.

Earning a total of ten nominations at the 49th Academy Awards, ‘Rocky’ collected three Oscar’s, not only for Best Picture, but also Best Director for John G. Avildsen and also for Best Film Editing. It also won the Award for Outstanding Directing from the Directors Guild of America as well. To say that ‘Rocky’ is iconic would be an understatement.

Telling the story of a debt collector for a loan shark who moonlights as a middling boxer who has never seriously trained for the fights, ‘Rocky’ is a film that could never get made in this day and age. From a slower pace, to the love story between Stallone’s Balboa and Talia Shire’s Adrian Pennino, audiences today would never flock to a film like this. And I feel this is a shame, because not all films have to work at a breakneck speed of feature explosions every twenty seconds.

‘Rocky’ shifts back and forth between three clear storylines, the love story between Rocky and Adrian, the arc of Rocky embracing of his boxing ability, and the story that brings all of this together, the desire of earning a big paycheque from Rocky’s opponent in the ring, Carl Weather’s Apollo Creed.

The story between Rocky and Adrian is what really sets this film apart, and both Stallone and Shire received well earned Best Actor and Best Actress nominations. While neither won, the fact that the film had such great performances, and from a film that was shot in only a 28 day time period, really just highlights how good they were.

Weathers’ performance as the film’s counterpoint to Stallone’s Rocky is actually a very understated performance. Playing an analogy to Muhammad Ali, Weathers steps up as a brash, loud self promoter who fails to take his self appointed challenger seriously, resulting in the climactic fifteen round fight that closes out the film.

While it took me into my 37th year to see the entirety of ‘Rocky’, especially considering that growing up it would be on television a couple of times a year, I am glad that I waited to be a bit older to give a full first viewing to fully understand the scope and wonder of this film.

While not all previous Best Picture winners have aged well, and while you can clearly tell that this film was shot during the 1970’s, ‘Rocky’ does truly stand the test of time to tell a great story of an underdog reaching up and grabbing a hold of the chance that we all dream of when it is presented and making the best of it.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer, and watch for some other Best Picture reviews soon.

Best Picture: The French Connection

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The next film in my tracing back of past Academy Award Best Picture winners is ‘The French Connection’.  Featuring Gene Hackman in his Best Actor award winning role, ‘The French Connection’ is commonly known for having one of the best car chase scenes of all time, and one that has been parodied many times over in the forty plus years since.

Based loosely on true events, ‘The French Connection’ centers on a heroin drug smuggling operation from France, one that allows director William Friedkin, who won the Best Director Oscar for this film, to show how singularly focused police officers can become in pursuing leads of the nature shown in the film.

I will admit that the opening to ‘The French Connection’ is a tad dry, but as you get introduced to main protagonists and antagonists, the film does start to pick up, and never is this better seen than when Hackman’s character, “Popeye” Jones trailing his mark, the affectionately known “Frog One” and gets made at a subway.

As for the aforementioned car chase scene, the use of multiple angles, chasing of an elevated train, and the cramped confines that entailed all make it one of the greatest car chases ever put to film.

In the end, ‘The French Connection’ is a product of its era, limited in what it could do when compared to films today, but a major success as a result. Telling a point a to point B story that didn’t worry about trying to throw the audience for a loop, it only deviated at the end to leave those watching guessing as to the end.

All in all, I was quite entertained by ‘The French Connection’, but I feel I won’t be venturing into the sequel, for I have heard it is nowhere near the original.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers.

Classic Sci-Fi: Blade Runner

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‘Blade Runner’, released in 1982, was one of the most unique films of its time. Loosely based on the Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, ‘Blade Runner’ featured a then on fire Harrison Ford in an attempted dramatic science fiction role.

Ridley Scott’s first directorial effort, ‘Blade Runner’ became a cult classic, and one that, with subsequent edits that have been released, has become a beloved classic of the sci-fi genre.

Set in the year 2019, ‘Blade Runner’ presents a bleak, film noir kind of future. A future where robotic replicants are banned from Earth and hunted by police specialists called Blade Runners. Don’t worry, I didn’t spoil anything there. That tidbit is scrolled across your screen once the film starts.

When ‘Blade Runner’ was first released there were complaints from some critics about the pacing of the film. While that is completely understandable, the pacing was done to show off the splendor of the world that Scott had created and in no way actually detracts from the film, in my personal opinion. That being said, that kind of pacing would definitely be a concern in this day and age of fast tracking, hard hitting films.

The film itself is shot in a way to allow the audience to question the nature of the main character portrayed by Harrison Ford. Not only that, the film doesn’t ever answer that question, leaving it up to each individual member of the audience to come to their own decision.

Rutger Hauer is simply scene stealing as the lead antogonist, Roy Batty. Upstaging even Ford when onscreen together, Hauer to this day believes that ‘Blade Runner’ is one of the best films ever made and his favourite role ever.

A classic for sure, I am glad I was able to go into ‘Blade Runner’ as blind as I did. An enjoyable film and one that anyone that is a fan of science fiction should watch.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers.

Saving Private Ryan

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I took a lot of flack earlier this week after writing about ‘Lone Survivor’ and letting it be known that as of that time I had yet to ever watch ‘Saving Private Ryan’. This was done as a personal decision as I felt to give the latter film the atmosphere it warranted was to wait until I had a full sound system in our home.

Well, that day is here and while home sick with a touch of the flu yesterday, I sat down and finally watched the World War II masterpiece from director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg has directed some of the best films of the past thirty years. and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, while not his best film, definitely deserves to be amongst that list.

‘Saving Private Ryan’ is basically made on the opening half hour or so of the film.  Showing a near 100% accurate recollection of landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the film serves to highlight the high price paid in the liberation of Europe in World War II.

Featuring many actors you will recognize, even in smaller roles, the acting is top notch in this film. Starring a still-in-his-prime Tom Hanks as the Captain of the team sent to find the titular character in France, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is just another example of how Tom Hanks may be one of the three best actors of the past thirty years.

The visuals in this film are extremely gut-wrenching, as we see what full-scale war can do to normally beautiful lands and scenery.  From the beaches of Normandy to the destroyed villages on the interior of France, Spielberg managed to turn parts of England and Ireland into mesmerizing locales to highlight the loss of architecture that war takes from us all.

The end of the film, which features the desperation of war not only in the attempted defending of a key bridge but also the hand-to-hand brutality that exists in war, was a jarring bookend to the opening of the film and a great way to segue back to the present day where the titular Ryan is seen at one of the cemeteries in Europe to pay his respects to the man that led the mission to bring him home.

At the end of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ the only thought that popped into my head is just how The Academy voters could have passed this over in 1998 for Best Picture and gave that Oscar to ‘Shakespeare in Love’? This has to be one of the gravest travesties in the history of The Academy.

While not 100% sold that this is the best war film of all-time, what it does do is force me to find a copy of ‘We Were Soldiers’ to re-watch to compare the two and see which one comes out at the top of my list.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

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Over the years many a Christmas film or special has come out.  Some have become classics, while others are completely forgettable.  In the Mayer household, we have films and specials that fall into both categories.  However, there is one film that stands out from all the rest as the favourite of the head of the household, and that is ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’.

The Muppets are a staple of my childhood.  From Kermit the Frog appearing on Sesame Street, to Fraggle Rock, to The Muppet Show itself, Jim Henson’s creations carry some of my fondest moments.  Coupling that with perhaps Charles Dickens most famous work was an imaginative stretch way back in 1992, and one that has become synonymous with one of the best portrayals of Ebenezer Scrooge ever committed to film.

When you are watching a film that features The Muppets, you know you are going to get a few things.  First off, there are going to be songs.  While never considered a musical, a Muppet film will have multiple short songs throughout.  Secondly, there is going to be some over the top silly comedy, a staple of a franchise that features a bear that is a comedian.  Finally, you are going to get a film that has some genuine touching moments, and that is definitely at the forefront of ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’.

All of your favourite Muppets are here, from Kermit to Miss Piggy, to Fozzie Bear to Gonzo and Rizzo, albeit in smaller roles than you may be used to, as the real star of this film is and always has been the wonderful turn by Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Michael Caine, all in the span of just over an hour, manages to be vile, hateful, scared, shocked, remorseful, repentant and spectacularly manic all leading up to a wonderful turn as a man full of life at the end.  While the idea of all of this happening as a result of interactions with various Muppets, the end result is just amazing.

The overall filming of ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ is a great blend of actual dialogue from Dicken’s written story along with slight adaptations involving The Muppets themselves, like having Gonzo portray Charles Dickens and having him narrate the film at times.

Having just watched this film again this past weekend, the last thing that I really want to touch on are the songs.  I once again found myself randomly singing along with the various songs during the film, from Kermit’s “One More Sleep ’til Christmas” to “Marley and Marley” sung by Statler and Waldorf all the way to Michael Caine singing “Thankful Heart” after his change of mind.

In the long list of Christmas specials, for me personally, ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ is at the top of the list, and is a shining example of how even in a film starring a series of puppets, your heart can be touched.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Lawrence of Arabia

For most of this year I had made it a goal of mine to finally sit down and watch Lawrence of Arabia.  Now, that was definitely easier said than done, as I have this inane compulsion to only watch movies in the theatre or on Blu-ray, having almost done away with watching movies on DVD.  For Lawrence of Arabia, at the time of my decision, it was only available on DVD at that time, but I could also not even find a DVD copy of the movie to watch anywhere locally.

Finally, it seemed that the opportunity to watch the movie was coming my way as my local theatre does classic movies every month for two showings, and for the month of November the movie chosen was Lawrence of Arabia.  The two viewings were at noon on Sunday the 11th and at 6pm on Wednesday the 14th.  Sadly, I ended up working both of those days so I missed that opportunity.

On the Tuesday of last week, the 13th, I was at my local Future Shop and saw much to my surprise that Lawrence of Arabia had been released on that day to Blu-ray, so I quickly snapped up one of the remaining two copies and purchased it.  I didn’t have ant time to watch the movie until two days later when I was home sick from work, so I finally laid down to watch one of the biggest classics of all time that I had never seen before.

Before I go much further, I would like to mention something about me: I’m a history guy.  I love reading about it and I try to watch historical movies in context, knowing full well that the movies are in no way 100% accurate, and that is what we have with Lawrence of Arabia, and I am okay with that, as I know that nothing ever is able to be filmed 100% accurately.

I loved how Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.  Not many movies are filmed this way anymore, with a grand scope in mind, but you can tell that this movie was filmed to be an epic, and that it is.  At almost four hours in length it did have a few slower moments, but other than at the hour mark or so, I didn’t find them to be tedious at all.

The one thing I did find with watching it was the volume when it was just characters speaking to each other seemed to be quite low and that at times it was hard to catch what was being said, especially in the first half an hour of the film or so.

That issue aside, Lawrence of Arabia tells a dramatic story of the Arab Revolt during World War I against the Ottoman Empire and their fight for autonomy.  T.E. Lawrence was a British soldier assigned to assist the Arabs in the Middle East front against the Turks and Lawrence of Arabia follows a stylized account of his history in the region during the Arab Revolt.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lawrence of Arabia.  That being said, it definitely is not for everybody, but I would absolutely recommend it for anyone that is into history in general, or World War I or the Middle East in particular.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Slap Shot

It had been a number of years since I had sat down and watched Slap Shot, but that is exactly what I did last night.  Slap Shot was a rite of passage for me growing up, with my Dad showing it to me when both of my parents agreed that I was old enough to watch it.  That is one of the main reasons why I hold this movie in such high regards.

That being said, upon watching it again for the first time in a while last night, a number of things stood out for me.  Firstly, this movie could never get made in this day and age.  The Seventies were a perfect time period for this movie, and one that actually suits the overall tone of the movie.

Secondly, the language is a bit shocking, but in a good way.  The amount of swearing in this movie is still quite possibly the most I have ever heard in a movie, but let’s be honest, that is how hockey players, especially in the 70’s, talk.  For me, the language in the movie actually lends to its believability, but also allows me to know that my boys will not be watching it for some years to come yet.

Thirdly, while hard to believe, most of the events of the movie are based on real life situations involving low level minor league hockey in the early 70’s, hell, the going into the crowd scene to beat up fans is not only something that happened in the minors, the Boston Bruins did it once, with the infamous Mike Milbury beating a fan with his own shoe incident.

Paul Newman has said that the most fun he ever had making a film was during Slap Shot as he had played hockey while growing up, and just allowed him to cut loose, and that Reg Dunlop is one of his favourite roles he ever played.

Slap Shot is very much a cult movie, as there are people like me that absolutely love it, and there are others that hate it, while still others that have never seen it.  Despite the cult status that it carries, Slap Shot carries a rating of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it is clearly even loved by critics.

It has even spawned two sequels, but you will never hear me talk about them as they are sequels in name only, and not in anything else.

If you love hockey, if you love Paul Newman, do yourself a favour and watch Slap Shot.  It is hands down the best sports movie of all time in my opinion.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer and check out my Fan Page on Facebook by clicking ‘Like’ to your right.  Cheers.