Tag Archives: steve mcqueen

The Great Escape – Review

18 Sep

At this point in time, I can honestly say that most people have heard of or can identify The Great Escape in some way. This 1963 World War II epic adventure film wasn’t received by critics well at all. They all said that the film lacked any kinds of artistic credit or skill, but what they failed to realize is that The Great Escape is just pure entertainment. In the 52 years since its release, the film has garnered classic status, and rightfully so. This film is an American achievement of pure fun and entertainment, while also offering plenty of suspense, character, and story telling.

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In 1943, after repeated escape attempts from British and American POWs, Nazi Germany decides to build a new camp, Stalag Luft III, which is designed to keep the most disruptive and tricky prisoners in one spot. This might’ve seemed like a good idea on paper, but it also brings all of the brilliant minds together. Some of these minds include Americans Robert Hendley (James Garner) and Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen). When British Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) is admitted into the camp, a brilliant and complicated plan to escape involving multiple systems of tunnels is devised. It’s all a difficult procedure, especially keeping it hidden from the guards, but the plan soon becomes deadly when the escapees have to travel through Germany and Paris to get home.

The first time I saw this movie I was probably 11 or 12, so the grandiosity of the whole production wasn’t fully appreciated. I enjoyed the movie, but now I can truly understand it as something special. What happens when a real life story as incredible as this is turned into a movie with one of the greatest casts ever assembled to act in a story that is impeccably written? Well, you get a movie that has earned its firm and well respected spot in film history. There’s a lot of movies that kind of baffle me why they are loved so much by so many, but The Great Escape is not one of those movies. Throughout the entirety of its nearly 3 hour run time, I was completely involved and entertained.

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As I said earlier, the cast of The Great Escape is one of the best casts you or me or anyone is ever going to see. Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough are always the first mentioned, but the list doesn’t stop there. There’s also James Coburn, James Donald, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Charles Bronson in one of his more under appreciated roles. My personal favorite performances are McQueen’s (because of his boyish excitement towards everything happening), Donald Pleasence’s quiet and ultimately tragic role, and Charles Bronson for showing some weakness even though he’s best known for playing tough guys. While the cast is fantastic, none of this would matter if it didn’t have a screenplay to back it up.

James Clavell and W.R. Burnett took Paul Brickhill’s book of the same name and did something truly remarkable with it. This is a story of American and British POWs breaking out of a Nazi prison camp where the outcome is grim for a lot of them. Even with this heavy subject matter, this is a very light hearted adventure. There’s plenty of moments of humor and a lot of the banter between characters is very funny. Even Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for the film isn’t all that intense. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any scenes that really hits where it hurts. In fact, much of the second half of the movie loses the sense of humor for a more suspenseful and intense tone. This might have made the movie feel uneven in any other circumstances, but it works just fine here.

Simply put, The Great Escape is an achievement of American film making, and proof that an epic war film can still be a lot of fun. Even though the film boasts a three hour run time, I dare anyone to get bored watching this movie. There’s a lot of action, adventure, suspense, and humor mixed in a screenplay filled with memorable scenes played by great actors. I don’t have much more to say about this movie other than this is one of the most fun and well constructed movie you may ever see, and it would be a crime to miss out.

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The Blob (1958 & 1988) – Review

22 Aug

When I think about movies from the 1950s, I immediately think of alien invasion films. There are classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and then there are those that are classics for totally different reasons like Plan 9 from Outer Space. Arguably one of the most celebrated of these invasion films is the 1958 cult smash, The Blob. Like many sci-fi and horror films, it got a remake in 1988, but surprisingly enough, it stands up to and in many ways surpasses the original.

Let’s look at the original version first.

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Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut) are out on a date one night in rural Pennsylvania. The night seems ordinary enough, until Steve notices what looks like a meteor hurtling towards the woods. When the contents of the meteor, a small gelatinous blob, is inadvertently brought into town by an old hermit (Olin Howland) people begin disappearing. Steven finally notices the blob, which has grown a lot bigger, consuming the town’s doctor, but when he begins telling people, only Jane seems to believe him. As the night goes on and more and more people begin disappearing, the blob finally grabs the town’s attention when it attacks people in a movie theatre in its iconic climax.

What could have been a pretty standard B-grade alien invasion story is bolstered into becoming something of a genre masterpiece. But what is it that really puts The Blob a step above the rest? Like a lot of these genre films from this time, there’s an underlying theme of communism making its way into the American way of life, but it’s done with what I think is the most simple but affective way. The blob, which is red, literally consumes everybody and becomes bigger and bigger. This blob, by the way, is a real achievement of special effects. Sure it looks dated now, but there’s certain scenes that made me excited at the clever usage of practical effects.

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The 1958 version of The Blob is a lot of fun. So much fun that there’s even a festival named after it which is dedicated to celebrating the film and other movies like it. It’s also fun to see a young Steve McQueen, who would go on to be an action megastar, in probably his most timid role. Unfortunately, this movie really won’t appeal to everyone. You have to be a fan of the genre to really appreciate what this movie was trying to do and the ways it succeeded. Still, it remains a cult classic that will never be forgotten.

There was a sequel to this film in 1972 called Beware! The Blob, but I’ve never seen that one, and I really have no interest in seeing it. Instead, I’m gonna jump ahead to 1988 to look at the remake.

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a meteor crashes in Arborville, California (that’s new) and is soon brought to the city by and old homeless man (Billy Beck) who gets it stuck on his arm. The amorphous, acidic substance soon disintegrates and consumes the man and begins working its way through the small town, growing larger and larger as it consumes more people. Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) and Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) are two teens caught in the middle of all of the chaos which only gets worse when scientists and military personnel, led by Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca), get involved and reveal a large government conspiracy that could be the end of the world.

Just like the original fit in nicely with other 1950s alien invasion films, this version of The Blob fits in great with the sci-fi/horror film of the 1980s. Like a lot of those films what really stands out to me in this movie is the special effects. The blob is much larger and much more aggressive, so the death scenes in this movie are much more explicit. This means we get a lot more of those practical effects I was talking about, except a whole lot better. People are disintegrated, snapped like twigs, limbs are pulled off, and faces are melted all in the name of cheesy horror.

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Another thing this version has is a great sense of humor that borders on the line of self awareness. There are a lot of jokes in this movie that genuinely made me laugh, and it’s pretty safe to say that everything that happens in this movie is done in a sort of tongue in cheek kind of way. That being said, the humor makes for characters that are easy to like which causes a reaction when one of them dies. Let me just say also, that this movie has some guts in killing off the people it does and when. There are plenty of shocks, laughs, scares, and great special effects that makes The Blob from 1988 not just a good remake, but a great and, dare I say, superior remake.

For both of the films, you have to already like the genre or be open to the idea of liking the genre. With the silliness of the first one and the excessive gore of the second one, these movies aren’t for everyone, but both have garnered praise and celebration which is all well deserved.

Bullitt – Review

11 Jan

Now we’re talkin’. Mac. Bandito. The King of Cool. Of course, I’m talking about Steve McQueen, an action star that even over 30 years after his death, he’s still recognized as one of the coolest, iciest actors in film. The movie that took his career and made it international was the 1968 cop/crime film Bullitt. Now, what’s cool about Bullitt is that it is the main influence for action movies of the 1970s through the 1990s. Think of any huge action movie and it could probably be related to this one somehow. Even though this is one of the most influential and important films in film history, it hasn’t aged well in a lot of ways making it sometimes a bore to sit through.

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Lt. Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is the kind of cop that will do anything that needs to be done in order to finish a case the way he wants it finished. When a seedy politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) enlists the aid of Bullitt to protect a witness testifying against the Chicago mob, Frank just thinks it’s going to be a by the books protection. When the witness ends up dead and another cop severely injured, Bullitt takes to the streets to hunt down and find those responsible, but the conspiracy is thicker than Bullitt could have imagined.

Let me start by saying this, I dare you to watch the Dirty Harry movies or the Lethal Weapon movies or even play games in the Driver and Grand Theft Auto series and not think of Bullitt. This is widely considered to be the first modern cop/action film with many others trying to copy the formula that is laid out in this film. This is a movie that demands respect because of the influence that it had on films to come. When this movie came out, it must have blown audiences away showing a much more gritty and urban look that wasn’t really used in movies of this kind in America. Still, there are things about this movie that just haven’t aged very well which makes it kind of odd to watch it almost 50 years after it was originally released.

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The movie starts out really good with McQueen’s Frank Bullitt the definition of a hard boiled cop. He does things his own way and gets them done, which I love seeing. Characters that break the rules to do the right thing is just fun for me, I don’t know. So things are going great and then the second act becomes very wandery. I see this a lot in movies from the 1960s, with musical interludes and various shots of the environment. That was sort of the style of the time, but it really brings Bullitt to a skidding halt after a great first act. The third act kind of picks up again, but I was sort of losing interest in the movie by then. Shave off maybe 20 minutes, and we would’ve been good.

I can’t finish this review without talking about the famous car chase. There were car chases before in movies, with the Keystone Cops coming to mind first for some reason, but many people say that the car chase in Bullitt was the first modern car chase. Who knows, without the chase scene in Bullitt we might not have gotten that awesome car chase in The French Connection just a few years later. Seeming to go all through San Francisco, the car chase lasts 10 minutes with the only soundtrack being the revving of the engines. It’s a blast watching the cars fly over the hilly landscape of the city and is definitely one of the best car chases ever filmed.

Bullitt is one of the most influential modern movies that laid the groundwork for action/crime movies to come in the 1970s through the 1990s. That being said, it hasn’t really aged all that well. I was disappointed to see how slow the movie got in the middle and and giant plot hole in the middle of the movie that we seem to just need to ignore. It’s great to see an important and classic film even if it isn’t really that cool anymore. There were times where I just wanted to watch Dirty Harry, a movie that aged a lot better. Still, if you’re a film enthusiast, Bullitt should be seen for the history.

12 Years a Slave – Review

12 Jan

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that spectacular time of year called award season is upon us. It’s a time when film lovers get together and argue or agree on the nominations and predicted winners of all the major awards. It’s also a time where I have to catch up on all the great movies of the year that I may have missed. This is where 12 Years a Slave comes in. Being nominated for over 100 different awards, this is a film that is getting some major recognition, and I was really excited to see it. Well, it was a really good movie that showed terrible things in an uncompromising way. While this may be required viewing, I have major problems with the artistic execution, and the flaws in its presentation made 12 Years a Slave more disappointing than I would have wanted it to be.

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Solomon Northup (Chiwitel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and two children. After two white men drug him and illegally strip him of his freedom, he is sold to William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) where he works on his plantations as a slave. After a violent altercation with one of Ford’s carpenters, Tibeats (Paul Dano), Northup is sold to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) for his own protection. Unfortunately, Epps isn’t as understanding as Ford. Epps is an alcoholic and violent towards his slaves, especially to Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a slave woman who is constantly abused by Epps’ wife (Sarah Paulson). As Northup waits for his opportunity to free himself from Epps, he must watch and be subjected to the horror that was slavery.

It needs to be said that this is a great movie. There really is no doubt about it. The acting is the shining beacon of this entire things. Everyone, and I mean everyone, give amazing performances. Ejiofor carries the weight of his role was superb talent, proving that this part couldn’t have been casted any better. His facial expressions alone speak more words than any line of dialogue written. Fassbender deserves an Academy Award for his work as Epps, the character that strikes as much fear into his victims as Ralph Fiennes did in Schindler’s List. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o has set a career in motion that I’d love to see blossom. These are just a few of this huge cast that struck hard with their performances. Without these believable and talented actors, 12 Years a Slave wouldn’t be as powerful as it is.

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Along with the powerful acting comes powerful imagery. Director Steve McQueen is no stranger when it comes to visual punishment. Hunger was not an easy movie to sit through, and Shame, although visually tamer, was no picnic either. Both are still fascinating films and great to look at, and 12 Years a Slave is no different. There are beautifully executed long takes, amazing nature shots, and other camera work that makes it feel like it is another character in the film. This is a really great addition to the film, but it’s also where 12 Years a Slave begins to fail.

When a movie with a storyline as moving, horrifying, and tragic as this one is, I expect the director to keep a focused eye on the plot. Unfortunately for this film, McQueen gets a little out of hand with showing the beauty of the South. There are way too many shots of trees and lakes and flowers, which only became a distraction as the movie went on. I understand his showing a beautiful South as a backdrop for such horror, but that only goes so far. By the third act, I was getting sick of the unnecessary shots of nature, and long takes for the sake of long takes. Some just never ended. These problems drag the movie down so much and make me really disappointed. These may seem trivial, but if you’ve seen the movie you may know what I mean.

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12 Years a Slave tells a story, not just of one man, but of the struggle of an entire race in a very dark time of American history. I applaud the movie and McQueen for showing such an uncompromising look at this time, and I also applaud the actors for giving such incredible performances, be they human or horrific. I’m still disappointed, and I really don’t want to be. This is in no way a bad movie, it’s a great movie. Unfortunately, the over-stylization of certain scenes make the movie slow down and lose focus of what is actually happening. I still stand by my point that this is required viewing, even with its artistic flaws.

Hunger – Review

27 Feb

Not too long ago, I did a review for the film Michael Collins, which told the story of the early days of the IRA, with the focal point being Collins, himself. For this review, I will be returning to the subject of the IRA, but in a completely different way with Steve McQueen’s film Hunger. Take everything you have learned about biopics and throw them all out the window. This is a biopic like no other. It is a gripping experience that will leave you pondering your own moral beliefs.

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The year: 1981. The place: Maze Prison in Ireland. Members of the IRA are held in this jail without being granted rights that are given to political prisoners. These rights involve the uniform policy and visitations, among other things. After a long running “no wash” protest is broken apart by the guards, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) decides to take these protests to the extreme. He proposes a hunger strike to anyone who wants to be a part of it. He is the first to protest, and we have to watch.

In terms of story, Hunger doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. It definitely does have a story to tell and it tells it well, but in a very unconventional way. The first half of the movie isn’t so much about Bobby Sands than it is about creating the atmosphere and way of life of Maze Prison. During this time, we don’t grow to hate the guards or any of the prisoners. This film doesn’t offer you the chance to take a side. Instead it purely shows what happens in the most beautiful way possible. That’s what really hit me about this movie. McQueen has taken such an ugly event and turned it into a wonderful work of art.

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Seeing an actor get so deep into a role can be an unsettling thing. I think a very good example would be Christian Bale in The Machinist. I wanted to use that example so I could segue easily to Fassbender’s performance in Hunger. Like Bale, he lost an obscene amount of weight for scenes in the latter half of the movie where Sands is slowly deteriorating. He looks terrible, and McQueen feeds off this. There is nothing held back, which may be a turn off to some, but others will appreciate the realism which seems almost undramatized.

The artistic element of this movie is completely out of this world. For the first quarter of the movie, there is barely anything said. The story relies on the framing of the shots and the physical performances of the actors. Then, in what must be on of the biggest game changers in film history, there is a 17 minute long take of Sands and his priest friend engaging in brilliantly layered thematic dialogue about protests, morality, and death. McQueen proves that he isn’t afraid to take major chances in order to get his artistic vision on screen.

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Like I said before, this is a biopic like no other. Calling Hunger a story about Bobby Sands wouldn’t be doing the film justice. It’s an examination at a time period in a culture that has been uprooted, changed, and fought over for many years. Being entertained by this movie is asking a lot. Hunger isn’t so much entertaining as it is an immersive experience that must be seen and felt to really appreciate it. Artistically, this film is beautiful and Fassbender gives an outstanding performance that proves he is one of the most powerful actors of our time.

Shame – Review

5 Jul

Movies about drug addiction are a dime a dozen. Sex addiction is a totally different thing. Some psychologists even argue that sex addiction doesn’t even exist. Whether it does or not, I’m not here to debate. What I will do is tell you if Shame, the movie that Richard Roeper called full of sex “but never sexy”, is worth your time.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a thirty-something businessman who seems to have his life strictly in order, expertly balancing his work, friends, and a well hidden sex addiction. This balance is shaken when his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), comes to stay in his apartment indefinitely. Brandon, now faced with this intrusion, must learn to control his addiction and attempt to form a more intimate relationship.

This is a very powerful movie without ever becoming loud. There is a score to this movie, but it is never boisterous, but strictly appropriate to what is happening. That can be said about everything in this film, including Michael Fassbender’s (in my opinion) Academy Award worthy performance. Fassbender was truly meant to play this role, and keeps a very controlled attitude throughout the movie. Behind all of this control we can see a glimmer of desperation and panic that shines through making this a very layered and complicated performance.

I feel like Shame is one of those movies that people would say, “It was boring. Nothing even happened.” At times, I can see where they’re coming from, but would argue that the conflict is coming from beneath the surface. There are scenes where Brandon and Sissy argue or where Brandon must fight his sexual urges with clear temptation. Then there are scenes where Brandon must quietly deal with something, and it seems like nothing is really happening. For example, there is a long take of Brandon going for a run after hearing sounds of sex. The camera stays with him for a very long time, which may make some viewers bored. But, as with everything in this movie, it happens for a reason.  This reason could be debated.

Shame also succeeds at never feeling too fictionalized. There are scenes that show Brandon’s mental collapse or a breakdown, but it’s never over dramatic. As I said before, that is the main component to this movie’s success: it’s control. The audience follows along in Brandon’s damaged psyche. We feel like we have a clear understanding of things in the beginning as it is layer out for us to see, but as Brandon becomes more and more stressed, the time line shifts and more intense editing ensues. That is brilliant film making.

Sex addiction is an interesting topic that is genuinely examined here. Screenwriters have to study and learn about their themes before writing the screenplay, so I’d bet my entire movie collection that this is accurate. Me, personally, would believe that sex addiction is real and it looks terrible. Brandon can’t even get through a work day without masturbating in the bathroom stall. Something like this can’t be made up and portrayed so seriously without feeling like fiction, if that makes sense.

Shame is an interesting, powerful, and moving character study about how one man’s addiction can affect his work, his friends, and the stability of his life. It is rated NC-17, so this is a graphic movie when it comes to the sex, but that shouldn’t draw you away because this sex is never erotic. I loved Shame and I can’t wait to watch it again.