“The Shawshank Redemption” is an absolute masterpiece of a film with its acting, story-line, and direction. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman were superb in this not-so-typical prison tale. “Shawshank” has characters that are representative of those found in most prison films; however, they are much deeper than your run-of-the-mill inmates.
Through Red’s brilliant narration, we get to know Andy Dufresne, who may truly be the only innocent man in the Shawshank prison. We’re also given a perspective of prison life that is new: the prisoners are all content with where they are. They know they’ve done their crimes, and inside the walls of Shawshank they are, in a way, innocent; they’re harmless inside them.
What makes Shawshank substantially different than other prison films is how the prisoners are portrayed. The prisoners appear innocent while those running appear to be the truly evil ones: in particular, Captain Hadley and the Warden. There is something we are offered here that isn’t anywhere else: after a certain amount of time, a lot of inmates are actually sorry for what they've done. Under the system, prisoners can become so dependent on prison existence, that they become “institutionalized.”
There are the incorrigible few who remain bitter after serving their time and being paroled, but by the time most are let out, they’re no harm to society. Such men are let go when the inmate’s best years have passed, essentially at an age where the ex-con can no longer be a threat to anybody. They can’t even go to the bathroom without asking permission; they have been dependent on the system for so long that they can’t deal with reality as adult human beings anymore.
Red’s case didn’t seem much different than most. But after knowing Andy and being touched by the “hope” that he had and watching him escape, he became a new man. After thirty years and three parole hearings reading the same old message, Red spoke from the heart. He realized that the stupid kid that had done the crime was long gone, never to return. The parole officers, as rude as they may have felt he was being, apparently realized that, as well. In return for his honest statement, his parole was at last approved.
Everyone, according to this film, is redeemable. You may have heard before that water allows people to forget many things, and that it has so many magical properties. Maybe that’s what Andy means when he says that the Pacific Ocean having no memory. Water has always stood as a symbol for being clean and purified. Supposedly, water can even rid you of all your unhappy thoughts. You can essentially, metaphorically, wash away your former self and become a new person.
The main emphasis of this film is that, for the most part, the American prison system works. However, the film also brings about the idea of corruption in the system. It is a sort of commentary on the corruption that happens in any “social service” that the government supplies. If you pester the government enough, though, they will most certainly do something about serious cases of corruption, as they did with Warden Norton and Captain Hadley.
“Shawshank” also brings up another interesting idea: that many prisoners actually can become content with their lives in prison. Maybe it’s for simply psychological reasons: their way of coping with prison life. Or perhaps, it is that those people understand that they belong there, that they’ve done the crime, and they’re doing the time. How many of them are actually sorry, though? It’s funny how they still claim, for the most part, to be innocent. In their time of being incarcerated, have they actually become new people? Or, do they just think they’ve become new people?
“The Shawshank Redemption” is a fascinating film to watch, and one that is certainly worth seeing multiple times. It’s one of those films that make you think about something different each time you watch it. “The Shawshank Redemption” is easily an all-time favorite film.
A Classic Film from an Iconic Director
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a Steven Spielberg classic, both written and directed by him. The protagonist of the film is Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who seems to have a fairly typical family, with a fairly typical life and a fairly typical job working for the electric company.
Around the world, strange things have been appearing at random in the deserts. First, war planes from World War Two appear in Mexico. When they turn the ignition, they still work. Later on, a passenger ship is found in the Gobi Desert.
Back in Indiana, Roy Neary goes out on a late-night call from work when he happens to have a close encounter with an alien ship featuring very bright lights, intense enough to leave Roy with sunburn. His encounter leaves him with far more questions than answers, and meanwhile, everyone around him thinks that he is going insane.
Roy Neary has seen something very strange, indeed. However, he is not the most articulate person around. He sees this shape of a mountain, though he does not recognize it as such at first, in practically everything after his encounter: in shaving cream, in mashed potatoes, and in mounds of mud.
Roy is not alone in seeing this shape. Others who have also encountered the UFO’s seem to see this shape in their minds also. But others have a better way of expressing the shape, and it would seem the others clearly know that the shape is a mountain. The question is which mountain?
Meanwhile, the government has discovered the correct mountain through deciphering an alien message, which at first just seemed like a pattern of numbers until they figured out that they were actually latitude and longitude coordinates. The government does their best to drive people away from the mountain, deploying any measures to stop them, including nerve gas. At the same time, Roy drives off his family with his apparent insanity. People just aren’t stopping to listen, notably Ronnie, to what he has to say.
After Ronnie takes herself and the kids to her sister’s house, Roy continues on building his mountain model, and he finally figures out what the mountain shape was about. Apparently, the alien scout ships gave those who saw the ships a psychic message of the location of their landing site. Of course, the government doesn’t want to let that happen.
When Roy discovers the identity of the mountain on the TV news, he sets off in a rental to Wyoming to get some answers. Along the way, he meets up with Jillian, whom he met earlier on just after his first encounter. It turns out that her little boy, Barry, has been taken by the aliens. They are met by many of the same people at the sightings, many of whom had not gotten this far. With all the defenses the government has set in place, only Roy and Jillian are able to make it to the top of the mountain, where they witness the most amazing thing, the arrival of the alien mother ship.
We then discover the source of these random appearances of objects around the world. It turns out that the missing Navy officers and Air Force pilots, as well as a good number of other missing folks, had been abducted by these aliens some years before. They returned to bring them back to Earth, seemingly unharmed, and they haven’t aged, as well. Of course, little Barry is returned as well, quite unharmed and quite happy that they “played” with him. It is a happy ending. Roy decides, along with a few others, that they will join the aliens back to their world. Jillian is reunited with Barry, and Roy goes off into space to get some answers to his million questions.
What Makes "Close Encounters" a Classic?
What makes this film a classic? Indeed, it leaves us with many questions. It has a happy ending and all of that jazz, but what happens to Roy? A film like this does not really have to provide all of the answers. That is the beauty of this film. You can watch it and wonder why everything happens. We are left with a great many questions. Why did Roy leave Earth? What did he have to go back to? He had no home now. His wife was through with him and he had no job. The aliens had the answers to his questions.
This is a film about wonder. As we grow older, we often lose the wonder for the world that we had as a child. The whole mountain shape drives Roy insane; he can’t explain what it is. Why can’t he articulate such a seemingly simple idea? Roy is an everyday guy, who to some may seem a little dumb, but if you were to see something like a UFO encounter, you probably would not be able to explain it any better than Roy did. What sort of description can you use for such a magnificent sight; especially if it was bright enough to give you sunburn? (I never quite understood that part of it.) He’s just your run-of-the-mill vocational worker with an ordinary family, albeit one with a wife who pretty much thought he was nuts before all this “space alien” junk started.
Though Roy doesn’t understand everything that’s going on, he does somehow know that the government has been hiding something very important from them. He brings up a good point. Why can’t people have their questions answered? Just because they are everyday people, they can’t take part in something wonderful? That’s what the government says: keep everything top secret and away from all the other simple ordinary Jacks and Jills. But, people need a sense of adventure in their lives. It’s a trip away from the mundane, and some people will risk their very lives to get a piece of the action.
Roy goes crazy because he wants his questions answered and no one will listen to him. He doesn’t have a wife that’s overly supportive of him, though his kids are fairly excited. In fact, no one is really supportive of him, other than those at the sightings. Mr. Neary is not the brightest bulb on the face of the earth, but he knows that something is very wrong. It is a perfectly healthy thing to wonder about things that cannot be easily explained, but society has limits on how far you can go with it.
Unfortunately, as Spielberg illustrates, society believes such wonder should be left to children, and adults should be the serious ones. So who does the government think they are? Were they simply trying to protect everyone? Did they somehow already really know that their missing military personnel really had been abducted by aliens? It was an incredibly good guess to be so ready to welcome all of them home! People often don’t just know what to think of what they don’t understand. It would seem that the older one gets, the more difficult it is for them to deal with the unknown, whereas a child can simply use his or her imagination to explain it all. Imagination is such an important human characteristic, and Spielberg definitely tried to tell us that through this film.
How Would Audiences Today View "Close Encounters?"
There are critics of this film who argue over the relaxed pace of the film, and some who will even call it “boring.” It is not your typical film, and not your typical story. The movie runs much more like a book than a typical Hollywood film. This is understandable because it is actually based on a novel that Spielberg himself wrote. Therefore, his script stayed a lot more faithful to his book than the adaptations that are usually made from books to film.
There are a number of deleted scenes from the film that were prominent in the book. For example, there is a scene about Roy’s job with the electric company and the reason that he gets fired becomes a bit clearer; because of his encounter with the alien, he doesn’t get to the job he was supposed to do, and loses his job over it. There is also a scene at the airport where the passengers aboard the first plane to have the close encounter are asked to hand over their cameras and other recording devices by the government. They are promised that everything would be returned to them and any pictures developed, albeit with the ones the government doesn’t want turning up to be blanked out, which explains why no one has seen “photographic evidence” of the UFO’s. Everything has only been first-hand accounts without solid proof, because the government has been very careful to make sure that these things stay secret. Apparently, they underestimated the aliens, who used psychic messages to contact those who were at the encounters.
These scenes were probably edited out because of the already pretty substantial, over two hours and fifteen minutes, length of the film; however, I certainly think the movie isn’t complete without them. The film paces like a book, and a lot of moviegoers today wouldn’t be able to understand it.
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a film that, if it were released today, probably would not be received the same way as it was back in the seventies. That is not only because of the dated special effects, but today’s producers would find this film a little on the slow side. However, I found the rather slow pace of the film to be fairly relaxing, and it had a clever, well-planned story that I enjoyed following.
What I found most interesting about the film is how Spielberg was able to transition the book so well into the film; unfortunately, some telling scenes were cut from the theatrical version that would’ve made the film better as a whole (they are included as deleted scenes in the Collector’s version.) Compared to the malevolent alien films put out there today, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a refreshing alternative with a little bit more intellectual input than your average human beings win over alien invaders plot. Spielberg certainly didn’t start the aliens from space idea. But, he certainly made them a little friendlier, and it is this very legacy that makes it such a classic.
"Some Like it Hot" Classic Film Review
"Some Like It Hot" may not seem like the Number One comedy of all time to some people. It may be because it doesn't give them the "die-laughing" sort of jokes and the type of humor that they may be used to today. But when speaking of comedies in general, there are likely very few that are better than this one is in so many different aspects.
What makes “Some Like it Hot” a brilliant stand-out from many other comedies is its creative writing. It has a plot that has stood the test of time, great direction by Billy Wilder, and brilliant acting by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. It also included Marilyn Monroe, the greatest star of their era. Though she may have not been an overly talented actor, she certainly fit her part in this film as Sugar. These things are no doubt what has made many film critics dub this movie the Number One comedy of all time, as the American Film Institute did in 2001.
Here is a story that holds up over time: two guys dressing up as women will always provoke humor! Just watching Curtis and Lemmon (Joe and Jerry) in their emulations of female characters is enough to crack a few chuckles. It really isn’t possible to not get quite a few laughs, giggles, or chuckles out of this film, because there is a bit of humor for each and every taste.
The film’s humor for the most part is intelligent and witty. It doesn’t have a lot of the slapstick (physical) humor that many folks today are accustomed to, and some of the jokes require a little bit more brain usage than other comedy films. Most of the film is littered with playful, light humor, especially one bit about the Shell gas stations (which has passed the test of time).
“Some Like it Hot" is full of unpredictable situations. There’s the banquet where the other mobsters murder Colombo and his men, allowing Joe and Jerry’s escape. The ending is an absolute classic, when Jerry confesses to Osgood Fielding quite animatedly of his manhood. Osgood’s reply: “Nobody’s perfect!”
What makes this film work so well is the fine chemistry between the actors, especially Curtis and Lemmon. They work very well together as a comedy duo, mostly because Joe/Josephine is a more serious and practical character than Jerry/Daphne who goes out of his/her way to be as un-serious as possible. These contrasts make for a classic hero and sidekick pair that is an integral part of good comedy.
Joe is the smart fellow, who devises the plans, and Tony Curtis does a good job with the voices and a certainly fine job on the accent of his millionaire persona, Junior. Jack Lemmon’s Jerry scoffs at Joe’s plans, but as it goes with sidekicks, he reluctantly goes along with Joe’s conceptions and makes the best of the often detrimental, but amusing situations he’s put through. It is comical in itself that Joe gets Sugar, and that Jerry is stuck with Fielding. This film is a prime example of the classic hero and his sidekick.
Many of the characters in “Some Like it Hot” are archetypes that have long been part of classic narrative. Joe, played by Tony Curtis, is the archetype of a ladies’ man, what we would call today as the “player.” Jerry, played by Jack Lemmon, is his faithful sidekick. Marilyn Monroe's Sugar is the archetype of the innocent, naïve girl, from Kansas no less - what we would today call a “dumb blonde.” Spats Colombo is your classic mobster boss, surrounded by dumb fools, just like the archetypical Chicago mobsters.
Because the parts were so well-acted in a very well written story, audiences will be able to associate with these characters for a long time. They aren’t simply caricatures of people in that day, and it’s possible to relate so well to the characters, because the role that each one of them plays is well-known to us through all of the narratives that we have ever experienced. A perfect example of one of these roles is Marilyn Monroe’s. It is said earlier in this review that she fit her part so well, and it would seem to me that the part was written for her; although she was indeed the third or fourth choice for the part, it doesn’t seem that way. Marilyn Monroe personifies in this film what we are very familiar with: the cliche “dumb blonde.” The part was written so well by Billy Wilder that she slipped right into it without having to be any thing she wasn’t. We seem to have a great amount of this “dumb blonde” archetype in today’s films, and not enough great duos like Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are to back them up.
There are many sorts of comedies, some of which are clearly made only for laughs, others which actually have some sort of narrative with a sort of point, and others that are good films that just cannot be serious. “Some Like it Hot” is a comedy that has laughs, a narrative with cleverly hidden social commentary (Osgood Fielding’s treatment of women, for example), fine acting, directing, and writing. There are very few films that can match everything done here in this masterpiece of a film. “Some Like it Hot” is a film to watch again; it’s one of those comedies that you’ll want to watch dozens of times, and even then it probably won’t get old. Best of all, years from now, this comedy will still be funny, because it’s a film about human nature. Human nature, and the archetypes of classic narrative which this film is based on, will never grow old.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like it Hot")
"Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure" Animated Film Review (Direct to DVD)
As someone who was a huge fan of the original "Charlotte's Web" story written by E.B. White, I've always loved the classic 1973 animated film adaption. Now I'll be taking a look at the 2003 direct-to-DVD animated sequel, Charlotte's Web 2. It's an interesting film, but maybe not for the right reasons. There are some interesting sub-plots that seemed thrown on for substance. But the film is subtitled "Wilbur's Great Adventure" and it is an adventure!
The Pros of the Film
The animation is obviously considerably different from the 1973 Hanna-Barbera version. That was to be expected. It's pleasant to look at and I don't have any problems with the updates they made to some of the characters - especially Wilbur. I didn't mind that the animators gave Aranea, Nellie, and Joy (Charlotte's daughters) cute little hairdos to tell them apart. In fact, I love how they gave each of them distinct personalities.
Aranea,the blonde one with three ponytails, has a rather comical inability to create a proper web. Apparently, she has never caught a fly in her life. We'll excuse the obvious logical flaws with that one. The red-headed Nellie, who seems to be the "leader" of the three, is a crazy daredevil always trying to pull stunts because of the "rush" it gives her. Then there's Joy with the cute purple bob, who just sort of has an attitude and is the pessimist of the group. It all works, though.
After that, the plot is very simple. There's a black sheep born named Cardigan. The other sheep (the white ones) all pick on him. Wilbur takes exception to this, bursting into the sheep's pen and instantly befriending Cardigan. Much like Jeffrey the little gosling in the original film, Cardigan decides he wants to be a pig and starts acting like one. It's a cute schtick, I guess, but not exactly original.
When Things Get Corny...
That's where things go a little downhill. The first song, "It's Not Hard to Be a Pig" is incredibly stupid and makes Wilbur look incredibly dumb. It's not well-sung, either. That's no offense to the guy who voiced Wilbur. Otherwise he and all the other voice actors did a good job.
Here's the next big thing that got me, and it's a major one. One of my greatest issues with the film is that they made Wilbur a flat-out coward. Yes, he fainted a bunch in the original film. But bloodsucking spiders and, of course, thoughts of your impending demise, can make a lot of people feel woozy. But the writers of this film decided, straight off from the beginning, to turn Wilbur back into an absolute coward. I let it go at the beginning. But it started to bother me around this point that the writers made this little alteration to Wilbur's character just to make a plot out of it. After all the courage that he gained from the original story, this was a character reversal that I really didn't appreciate.
So Zuckerman decides to take Cardigan and Wilbur back to the fair. As it turns out, it's been only a year since the previous fair. Zuckerman wants to show off his black sheep and brings Wilbur along for the heck of it. It's so they can be paired together as "Zuckerman's Famous Animals." There's nothing wrong with this part, at least.
Nellie, being the adventurous one, tags along. Of course, Templeton the Rat joins her, who can't wait to glut himself again at the fair as he did in the original film/book. Actually, the bit with his four kids shown at the end of the original film being a great handful was pretty cute. That was a part that I liked. At this point, even with the film's early problems, it was starting to come together for me.
But then there's a silly subplot about Fern. She's the girl who saved Wilbur from her father who was going to kill him because he was a runt. Fern is raising a special sort of large tomato and taking it to the fair. She goes as far to sing to the tomato and names "her" Sal. Thankfully, there are no songs featuring the tomato.
At the fair, Cardigan is getting a lot of attention, which he doesn't like. Wilbur reminds him that it's only because he's special. But when the onlookers discover that there's no web over Wilbur this time, they shrug and walk away. One walks away even suggesting that the zucchini were more interesting.
Wilbur doesn't feel so special anymore. That's understandable. But then, there's this ridiculous bit where he envisions a bunch of forks and knives chasing after him. I could have lived with that. Unfortunately, there's a song with it. The song, honestly, kind of amused me, as stupid as it all was.
Soon after, Farmer Zuckerman decides that he wants to sell Cardigan to a local farmer for his wool. Wilbur is very upset by this and Fern arrives to let her uncle (Farmer Zuckerman) know that Wilbur doesn't want him to go. But Zuckerman says it's business and ignores her. He sells Cardigan anyway.
The "Meat" of the Film
Wilbur decides he has to go on an adventure to see if Cardigan is alright. The Goose (named Gwen in this film) gives him directions. Wilbur hires Templeton (who's been to the farm that Cardigan was sold to before) to be his guide. Templeton's fee is baby-sitting his four kids for a couple of weeks.
The rest of the film is basically that adventure, of Wilbur continuing to be a coward until they reach the farm where Cardigan is. By the time he gets there though, Wilbur is an absolute mess. He has leaves, brambles and sticks and things stuck to him to the point that he looks like a wild boar. A couple of farmers driving by in the night saw him. They put out word that there's a wild pig on the loose.
This is when we get to the "villain" of the film, who was actually introduced towards the beginning of the film. Farley Fox is his name. Honestly, he's probably the most interesting character in the film. Wilbur had saved a gosling from his demise earlier, and now he makes his way to the farm that Cardigan is at.
Farley sneaks into the hen-house and takes out a hen and some eggs. Cardigan and some of the other animals at the farm urge Wilbur to stop the fox. Being the coward he is, though, Farley is able to easily escape. The farmer's wife goes after Wilbur, believing him to be a troublesome wild boar.
Farley is now gloating over his victory. His "song" which is more like a rhyming monologue put to music is probably my favorite of the four in the film. He's quite the self-centered fox genius. At the end of his little musical bit, he catches sight of Cardigan, who he immediately snatches away.
Wilbur, always the coward, suddenly remembers what Charlotte told him once: friendship is a tremendous thing. Wilbur "mans" up and decides to go after the fox to save Cardigan. Templeton is happy to join him, explaining that he had many cousins that met their demise at the paws of a fox. Now, this was a personal vendetta for him. It's great that they give Templeton such a big part in the film. One of the cows at the farm, Bessie (who makes nothing but sour milk) tags along.
A Rather Weak Conclusion
This is where the film just falls apart for me. Obviously, if a fox had caught a little lamb like Cardigan, he would've torn him to shreds almost immediately. The very fact that Farley drags him back to his "foxhole," which is actually the basement of a dilapidated old farmhouse, is just absurd. The very fact that Wilbur, Bessie, Templeton, and Charlotte's three daughters are able to outsmart him is just really, really absurd.
On a good note, the three sisters have a cute little song. It was a mite TOO cute as they work to try and spin a web to prove Wilbur's innocence (trying to write Fox). It didn't work out too well, at first. However, by the time that Farley is captured, in a web of WILBUR'S making, the girls have managed to write the word FOX in a web right above the ensnared fox. This is enough to convince the silly humans that it was a fox that was the culprit the whole time. The film ends with Aranea and Joy staying behind with Cardigan to keep him company. Meanwhile, Wilbur has to return home to make good on his promise to baby-sit Templeton's kids. It's all really silly.
Overall, this film would have never done very well had it not been packaged with the DVD release of the original film. It was a direct-to-DVD film and it shows. While it makes for a cute spectacle for fans of the original story, it has all sorts of plot-holes that kill it for me. It's clear that there was some effort put into character development, and I did enjoy seeing Aranea, Joy, and Nellie come to life. They were the best part of the film for me.
But overall, the film was so corny and cliched that it just can't hold a candle to the original. For what it is, though, it's OK. But unless you're a huge fan of the original story, it's not really worth watching.
"Charlotte's Web" Animated Film Review
Not long ago, I dug out my DVD's of both the original animated film of Charlotte's Web and its sequel (yes, there was a Charlotte's Web sequel). It was the first time I'd seen it in 10 years, as I hadn't seen it since I first bought the two-pack DVD set that had it and its direct-to-video sequel. It brought back a lot of memories of watching this movie over and over on the VHS tape that we had of it when I was little. I'm pretty sure I wore that out, and I'm not sure we even still have that tape in our possession after all of these years - unless it's shoved into some closet somewhere. The DVD is obviously better quality, though, so I'm not complaining.
The songs are as catchy and fun as I remember, and although I know they can be a bit cheesy, remember that it was a children's film made in the early seventies. The Shermans did a fantastic job with both the musical arrangements and lyrics. It still greatly amuses me that when Wilbur first learns to talk to the other animals that his vocabulary is some how college-level. Yet he doesn't understand what the words "salutations" or "versatile" mean. The film follows the classic E.B. White story very closely, and although Hanna-Barbera took some artistic license, as usual, they did a great job.
Debbie Reynolds was amazing as the voice of Charlotte. Julia Roberts in the live-action version, which I think is far inferior to this film, was nowhere as good as Charlotte, in my opinion. Henry Gibson did a fine job as Wilbur, as did Paul Lynde with Templeton. All of the voice acting was excellent. The story was well put together and the animation was beautiful. I love old-school animation.
Watching the sequel with its much updated animation (as nice as it looks) was incredibly weird. Also, before I get to it, the sequel is not based on anything that E.B. White himself actually wrote. I don't think he ever really saw a need for a sequel.
In any case, the second animated film, which was a direct-to-video film, cannot ever compare to this one. Maybe this one is dated in the eyes of some, but it's still a treasure, just like the original book. I wish the live-action film had lived up to its predecessor. Some people really loved that version, whereas I thought it was actually kind of boring. But as is the case with many remakes, the original is almost always simply far better.
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